GSMA revamps its eSIM standard to appease DoJ anti-collusion investigation

The GSMA’s new remote SIM provisioning (RSP) procedures will include more input from non-operator members. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice Department Anti-Trust Division said it will drop its nearly two-year anti-collusion investigation of the GSMA and its mobile operator members —specifically AT&T and Verizon — over eSIM technology. The dismissal comes after the GSMA agreed to draft a new procedure that will give non-operator members more say in the eSIM process and make it easier for consumers to switch operators.

In a November 27 statement, the agency said it found that the GSMA and its operator members used an unfair remote SIM provisioning specification that “stacked the deck in their favor,” and was designed to limit competition.

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“The GSMA’s old procedures resulted in certain eSIMs rules that benefitted only its incumbent mobile network operators at the risk of innovation and American consumers. The new procedures proposed going forward significantly reduce that risk and should result in new innovative offerings for consumers,” said Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.

The mobile industry is in the midst of migrating away from traditional SIM cards toward eSIMs, which can be remotely programmed and re-programmed to connect to different operators’ networks. That process for programming the eSIM is called remote SIM provisioning (RSP). The GSMA’s new RSP procedures will include more input from non-operator members, such as device makers, and will make it harder for operators to use the standard as a way to avoid competition.

Because the GSMA is addressing these concerns, the Antitrust Division said it has no intention of bringing any actions against the GSMA or its operator members.

The DoJ anti-collusion investigation started in February 2018 and included the nation’s four largest wireless carriers, with a focus on AT&T and Verizon as well as the GSMA. At the time, various news reports that cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter said that the investigation was started after the DoJ received complaints from at least one device maker and one wireless operator. Bloomberg reported that Apple was one of the companies that issued a complaint.