According to a new report from the New York Times, the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an antitrust investigation into AT&T, Verizon and the GSMA about possible collusion over eSIM technology.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating the companies and the GSMA, an industry standards group, for the past 5 months after at least one device maker and one wireless carrier filed a formal complaint with the DOJ, the report says.
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Officials requested in February that the three entities facing investigation turn over information related to purported efforts to undermine eSim, a technology that allows consumers to switch their phone numbers from one carrier to another easily. The allegation against the carrier and GSMA is that they waned the ability to lock devices to their networks even if eSIM technology was being used.
eSIMs are at the heart of Microsoft's Always-Connected PC initiative, and Windows 10 Redstone 4 is set to make it easy to buy data plans from carriers simply by downloading an app from the Microsoft Store, similar to how one can buy a WIFI data plan.
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A Verizon spokesman told the outlet that the inquiry was "much ado about nothing", and that the company had been cooperating with the Justice Department because of "a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards".
Apple and Samsung have both been pushing the telecom industry to adopt eSIM technology.
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"In the context of antitrust and IP, we will be inclined to investigate and enforce when we see evidence of collusive conduct undertaken for the goal of fixing prices, or excluding particular competitors or products", Delrahim said in a speech this month at a conference in Washington, D.C. He previously warned of the potential for "cartellike behavior" by competitors that got together with standards-setting organizations. The newspaper cites six people with knowledge of the inquiry and alleges the wireless carriers worked in coordination to make it more hard for people to switch carriers. Despite eSIM's obvious advantages, it has yet to achieve any significant presence in the market, with only a few notable devices having adopted it so far, such as Google's Pixel 2 and the Apple Watch 3. Delrahim has said the deal will hurt competition and lead to higher prices for cable customers. Verizon had previously stated that it needed to be able lock down phones as a way to prevent fraud and theft.