TracFone, America’s largest virtual operator that piggybacks on all of the big guys’ networks, is all for the Sprint merger with T-Mobile. It already sent a letter to the FCC to express its feelings, arguing that the wedding will increase their coverage in rural areas more efficiently, and result in three full-service competitors, rather than the current Verizon/AT&T duopoly there.
Owned by one of the world’s richest people, America Movil owner Carlos Slim, TracFone is an umbrella operator for a number of extremely popular prepaid brands in the US. It houses Straight Talk, Simple Mobile and Walmart Family Mobile – all prepaid juggernauts that collectively hold the most prepaid subs than any of the MVNOs, about 22 million in the US.
This is why its next moves are pretty important as far as the prepaid market goes, and it is preparing to take full advantage of its rock star status of a virtual operator that uses all four big US networks – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – by introducing the so-called SmartSIM.
An analyst from Wave7 Research has noticed
that TracFone sent a marketing email for at least two of its prepaid brands – StraightTalk and SimpleMobile – featuring a video that extols the virtues of a SIM card which hooks up seamlessly to whichever network has the best service in the area you are in. Bazinga! The PR blurb read:
What if there was a wireless brand that instantly connected you to the strongest cellular network? Our new SmartSIM plan takes the guesswork out of choosing the best service.
While the service hasn’t been commercially rolled out yet, the promo video urges subscribers to check if it is available in their ZIP code, so it should be rolling out soon. Bear in mind that this is not TracFone’s usual handover of networks based on which one is offering the lowest rates from its MVNO contract, but actual user-centric move aimed at seamless handover of the best signal while you roam between networks. According to Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner:
This looks very much like TracFone bought/licensed the Google Fi core or something very similar and updated its agreements with various carriers to allow always on eSIM with on-the-fly network switching.
This allows to optimize for least cost and/or best network coverage. Altice has something similar where they normally roam on Sprint but if Sprint has no coverage the phone automatically switches to AT&T.
Most carriers buy their core from a vendor. Google built its own core. One of the critical components in there is that it allows an always-on eSIM with dynamic network switching, which is what TracFone says it will offer. Depending on where you are, it will pick the best coverage for you…
This is an opportunity for MVNOs to be in a stronger bargaining position; it allows them to dynamically switch between networks.
The kicker? Despite that the promo video depicts a removable physical SIM card, it is not yet known whether TracFone won’t be prepping to usher in this SmartSIM service with the eSIM cards that will be proliferating this year.
phones have them, Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S20 family is rumored to have eSIM card option in additional to the regular hybrid SIM tray that can house a microSD card, and, surprise, surprise, Apple’s upcoming iPhones could very well go with eSIM as well.
For now, if you plug in a ZIP code in the dedicated Smart SIM promo page of TracFone
, the answer seems to invariably be that “SmartSIM isn’t available in your area yet, get notified when it arrives
.” When the service rolls out fully, though, it may be a harbinger of things to come with the advent of eSIM technologies, to the chagrin of established carrier networks.