DOJ Ends Investigation into GSMA over eSIM Standards Process
Monday, December 02, 2019 | Comments

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division completed a nearly two-year investigation into the standard-setting activities of the GSM Association (GSMA), a trade association for mobile network operators.

The Antitrust Division’s investigation revealed that, in recent years, the GSMA used its industry influence to steer the design of embedded subscriber identity modules (eSIMs) technology in mobile devices. In response to the investigation, the GSMA drafted new standard-setting procedures that will incorporate more input from non-operator members of the mobile communications industry. The new process will have a greater likelihood of creating procompetitive benefits for consumers of mobile devices; it will also curb the ability of mobile network operators to use the GSMA standard as a way to avoid new forms of disruptive competition that the eSIMs technology may unleash.

The GSMA expressed its intent to adopt the new procedures in a request for a business review letter from the Antitrust Division. After completing its investigation, the division is issuing a business review letter that expresses concern about the past procedures and some of the resulting provisions in the standard. The letter concludes, however, that the proposed changes appear to adequately address those concerns. In light of these planned changes, the Antitrust Division has no present intention to bring an enforcement action against the GSMA or its mobile network operator members, a statement said.

eSIM is global specification that enables remote SIM provisioning of any mobile device. Users can simultaneously store multiple operator profiles on a device and remotely switch between them, though only one can be used at a time. Last year AT&T began offering the latest iPhones that support band 14 and eSIM technology to First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) subscribers.

“I am pleased that the GSMA is ready to use its standard-setting process to create a more consumer-friendly eSIM standard,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “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.”

The mobile communications industry has begun to migrate away from traditional SIM cards — a removable plastic card that is preprogrammed to connect to a single mobile network — and toward innovative eSIMs, which perform the same function as a SIM card but are soldered into the device and capable of being remotely programmed and re-programmed to connect to different operators’ mobile networks. The mobile industry refers to this process as remote SIM provisioning (RSP).

According to the Antitrust Division’s investigation, the GSMA and its mobile network operator members used an unbalanced standard-setting process, with procedures that stacked the deck in their favor, to enact an RSP specification that included provisions designed to limit competition among networks.

The GSMA is a non-profit association with headquarters in London. The trade association represents mobile operators worldwide, including more than 750 operators and over 350 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. GSMA’s membership includes all of the major mobile network operators worldwide, including the major nationwide carriers in the United States.

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