The introduction of universal SIM cards, called eSIM, could be delayed due to an investigation into whether mobile operators make it difficult for customers to switch service providers.
GSMA, a group that works to set eSIM standards for the wireless industry, said on Saturday that the latest version of the eSIM standards is "pending" to completion by a US Justice Department. The group added that they "cooperated fully" during the investigation.
The standards are intended as an agreement between service providers and manufacturers of smart devices ̵
eSIM cards are more customer-friendly because they allow the mobile operator to change without having to install a new card on the device.
The technology for eSIM cards already exists, but basically useless if the mobile operators and device manufacturers can not agree on how they should be used. That's why the GSMA standards are so important.
The New York Times reported Friday that the DOJ is investigating whether the country's largest airlines, AT & T and Verizon, are cooperating with the GSMA on proposed new standards that would allow companies to become customers of a mobile operator Lock devices have eSIM cards. That could violate US antitrust laws.
A source CNNMoney also confirmed that the DOJ letters to Sprint [) AT & T ( ) [19659010T-Mobile () Verizon ( and GSMA earlier this year. All four service providers are not necessarily targets of the probe. )
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A Verizon spokesman said in an email message that the DOJ's investigation was "a lot of noise for nothing "is.
"The reality is that we have a disagreement with some phone equipment manufacturers about developing E-SIM standards, nothing more," the statement said. "We have been working proactively and constructively with the Department of Justice for several months, and we continue to do so."
An AT & T spokesman also said in a statement on Friday that he had provided information to the investigators and would "continue to work proactively" to advance the eSIM issue.
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T-Mobile did not respond to CNNMoney requests and Sprint declined to comment on the matter.
Carriers are unenthusiastic about the eSIM concept because it makes it easier for customers to leave their networks, says Craig Moffett, Telecommunications Industry Analyst at MoffettNathanson.
"It's no secret that none of the airlines would have liked the idea," Moffett said.
Most of the SIM cards in use today are exclusively connected to a wireless service provider, so customers who want to change service providers are forced to buy a new SIM card and physically exchange it on their device.
The eSIM technology, introduced in 2016, aims to eliminate this process through integrated cards that mobile carriers can easily remotely exchange with a software update.
The Apple Watch 3, some iPad models, the Google Pixel 2 smartphone, and the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, for example, are all equipped with eSIM cards.
However, eSIM cards are not widely used in the US, and some devices with eSIM cards may not necessarily connect to a network.
For example, Verizon does not support eSIM-related services for Apple iPads or Google Pixel 2s.
This is not the first time that eSIM standards have become the target of a DOJ probe. Officers launched a similar investigation in 2016 prior to the adoption of an early set of GSMA rules, but investigators eventually dropped the case for lack of evidence, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
-CNN's Seth Fiegerman and Hadas Gold have contributed to this report.
CNNMoney (New York) First published April 21, 2018: 5:38 pm ET