UPDATE: An AT&T spokesperson gave us the following statement:
We are aware of the investigation into GSMA’s process for developing eSIM standards that provide a better experience for consumers. Along with other GSMA members, we have provided information to the government in response to their requests and will continue to work proactively within GSMA, including with those who might disagree with the proposed standards, to move this issue forward.
News has broke this afternoon that the US Department of Justice has opened an investigation over antitrust concerns and potential collusion between Verizon and AT&T in efforts to prevent eSIM adoption and progress. Apple Watch and iPad both use eSIM technology and Apple is reportedly one of multiple manufacturers who has raised concerns with the DOJ.
In a report from The New York Times, details include the possibility that Verizon and AT&T (the top two US wireless carriers) were also working to block eSIM tech with the mobile industry standards group, the GSMA.
Anonymous sources told the NYT that official complaints were filed roughly five months ago, and two months ago the DOJ issued demands to AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA. The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter to the NYT.
At the heart of the investigation is whether the nation’s biggest wireless carriers, working with the G.S.M.A., secretly tried to influence mobile technology to unfairly maintain their dominance, in a way that hurt competition and consumers and hindered innovation in the wider mobile industry.
The report notes that the two carriers handle about 70% of US wireless customers, and that the eSIM tech makes it easier to switch carriers.
Apple has been including eSIM technology in its iPads for some time now, and began offering it with its Series 3 cellular Apple Watches as well. Notably, Verizon doesn’t let iPad users activate cellular service with the eSIM and AT&T locks devices that use the eSIM. Google’s Pixel 2 smartphones and Microsoft’s Surface devices also use eSIM tech, hinting that these companies may have had reason to file complaints as well.
Tweet’s from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Eric Newcomer note that Apple is said to be one of the manufacturers who complained to the DOJ and that the company’s complaints may have led to the investigation.
Verizon did respond to the matter, saying that it was all “much ado about nothing.”
In a statement, a Verizon spokesman confirmed that the carrier had been working with the Justice Department for several months on the inquiry because of “a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards.” He said the issue was “much ado about nothing.”
AT&T and the GSMA declined to respond.