Microsoft’s “Always Connected PCs” Initiative Brings eSIMs to PCs

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 45 Comments

Microsoft's "Always Connected PCs" Initiative Brings eSIMs to PCs

At Computex 2017 this morning, Microsoft announced that it will partner with chipmakers like Intel and Qualcomm, PC makers, and mobile operators on a new “Always Connected PCs” initiative.

And please re-read that first sentence again with an emphasis on the word Intel: Contrary to reports I see elsewhere, this is not just about a coming wave of ARM-based Windows 10 PCs. This initiative includes mainstream x86-based PCs too.

Likewise, this does not appear to be related to yesterday’s news about Microsoft’s internal reboot of Windows 10 Mobile. Instead, the “Always Connected PCs” initiative concerns traditional PCs, not non-PC mobile devices.

Here’s what’s happening.

Microsoft tells me that “Always Connected PCs” are a new class of PCs that are powered by Embedded SIM (eSIM) technology. So before we can move on, we need to understand that. eSIM is a new standard for the SIM cards we use today in cell phones, smartphones, and other connected devices. And as the name suggests, these SIMs are embedded directly into a device. They cannot be removed, and they are universally compatible with all carriers, so they should work (virtually) anywhere in the world.

Put simply, eSIMs are universally compatible, do not need to be switched out of devices, and should make the process of switching between devices, or carriers, easier than ever. They’re a good thing.

“There are users who need to be connected to the cloud at all times, leveraging the latest network technology like gigabit LTE and eSIM,” an emailed Microsoft statement notes. “Microsoft is collaborating with its ecosystem on a shared vision that starts with a close partnership at the silicon layer, with Intel and Qualcomm, and with its mobile operator partners to provide seamless eSIM connectivity. Microsoft device partners are committed to this new category of Always Connected PCs using eSIM technology. In addition, Microsoft announced Always Connected devices will be coming on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset. These new devices will feature Windows 10, with always-on LTE connectivity and great battery life.”

So Microsoft’s “Always Connected PCs” initiative involves traditional, Intel x86-based PCs as well as Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-based PCs. (You may recall that Qualcomm is Microsoft’s first partner for bringing Windows 10 to ARM, and that the 835 is the first chipset that is supported.)

Which PC makers, you ask?

ASUS, Dell, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, VAIO, and Xiaomi have all committed to adopting “Always Connected PCs,” and they will build traditional Intel x86-based Windows 10 PCs with integrated eSIMs.

In late 2017 or 2018, ASUS, HP, and Lenovo will also ship Windows 10-based PCs based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, and with integrated eSIMs.

Microsoft has revealed, too, that the mobile operators AT&T, BT/EE, DTAG/T Mobile, Vodafone, Orange, Tele2, Swisscom, 3, KDDI, Gemalto, Oberthur, Gigsky, and Transatel have all agreed to “Always Connected PCs” over “the next year.”

So that’s a lot of words for a simple concept: Various PC makers will ship Intel x86- and Snapdragon 835-based PCs in the coming year that include embedded SIM cards for always-on connectivity. That’s it.

 

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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Microsoft’s “Always Connected PCs” Initiative Brings eSIMs to PCs”

  1. bbold

    Always Connected PC's = The perfect new PC solution for a bunch of impatient glued-to-their-phones 20 somethings. (And I guess 40 somethings, too, because I can't wait.) :D

  2. CompUser

    Why? I can't remember the last place I went that didn't have either free WiFi or wasn't a free hot spot for my ISP (Comcast), and there's getting to be more locations all the time. It's absolutely everywhere, so why pay for it? Or like others have mentioned, if you're out somewhere that doesn't provide WiFi or act as a hot spot, tether you're laptop/tablet to your cell phone.

    That said, there's nothing new about this other than it being hard wired and calling it eSIM instead of just SIM. My 5-year old Dell Latitude E6520 has a SIM card slot in it.

    • Jeff Jones

      In reply to CompUser:

      It's not quite the same as a hardwired SIM. It's more like an instantly re-programmable SIM.

      So for example if you are traveling, instead of having to buy a new SIM for each new provider you access, the eSIM would simply switch over to the new provider and adopt a new IMIE automatically if you already had a subscription with them. It should be significantly smaller as well and it should make it much harder if not impossible for vendor lock-in.

    • irfaanwahid

      In reply to CompUser:

      That's probably in the first world countries, in Nairobi we don't have that full coverage as you describe. I'm probably in the minors who have been waiting for this option, and I know couple of my colleagues too. So that's a welcome.


      However, I'm more concerned about how Windows will handle Windows updates and other services that starts to download huge chunk of updates, including OneDrive. When active on SIM, Windows should limit all these downloads. Today, when I tether my bundles finish pretty fast. So I need to monitor my activity on my PC.

  3. EZAB

    Did anyone notice who is missing from the Mobile Operators list? The Evil Verizon. Is this intentional? Maybe they want nothing to do with eSim? Could you look into this Paul?

  4. dvdwnd

    Always connected? Color me skeptical. Ever since a firmware update a few months ago, my SP4 will only stay in "connected standby" for 15-30 minutes before it hibernates and becomes decidedly disconnected. No option to change this. Lots of wasted effort on "user presence prediction" that only makes your device less predictable.


    Microsoft's approach to all things mobile is just schizophrenic these days.

  5. Ugur

    I don't get the eSim part fully yet.

    I mean i'm very happy when i can have both wifi and LTE on a pc (and mostly on laptops ad convertibles/tables the LTE when no Wifi close by) in the future but so far my plan was to do this using a multi-sim for that like i do on my other tablets with sim slot.

    Dunno if multi-sims are available in the US but across several countries in Europe, like Germany, they are pretty common.

    One basically has one cell data/phone contract and can then buy several multi sims to use the same data volume on the other devices, too.

    So then one pays for example 9.99 once for getting an additional multi-sim and then only 2.99 per month for using multi-sim, (next to what one already pays for the base phone contract) instead of 9.99 or more per month for an additional sim if one would do it with a separate contract.

    It is a much better deal all around than getting multiple contracts, basically get one contract with more data volume and then use it on all your devices.

    (Of course carriers wouldn't be carriers if they wouldn't still also at the same time try to up sell people on buying separate tablet contracts and only show the multi-sim option for existing phone contracts in a small semi hidden portion, but that's a different topic)

    How if at all could i do this multi-sim usage with let's say a new Surface Pro with an esim in it?

    I hope it is doable with that, else that is a DOA feature for me (and many many others).

    Paul, you only list positives for eSims but if the thing has no regular (nano/mini/micro) sim slot and one can't then do something like use a multi sim with the device, that would be horrible and make it a DOA in many areas.

    Then again reading some on eSims it sounded like they could essentially be reprogrammed for a new provider, so could i then make it work like my multi-sim card? Then, yes, it could be neat.

    So if you know more about how this works please elaborate.

    Dunno, not having used one yet it sounds a bit like it could be more troublesome to switch providers or use things like multi-sims etc to me right now, but yeah, would like to know more about how the esims can be used there.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Ugur: I have questions about eSIM as well. We don't have multi-SIMs over here (AFAIK), though I have always hoped they would appear. I also understand there is the option some places of duplicate, or cloned SIMs. You could have the same phone number in multiple devices, and the one that is turned on first and connects is the active one.
      Currently to switch from my Lumia 950 to an iPhone, I just move the SIM. With an eSIM, how do I do that? Does it require spending 30 minutes on the phone with AT&T customer support? If I have one phone on AT&T and another on T-Mobile, and want to switch them, what sort of Customer service hell might that require?
      I need to know more. The cynic in me feels like this will be a boon to carriers, not so much consumers.


      • Ugur

        In reply to SvenJ:
        Regarding multi-sims: yeah, basically it's just a second sim for your same contract.
        The carrier basically gets 2.99 per month additionally (on top of your phone contract bill) for essentially offering no additional service at all (besides allowing to use your same data contingent on another device, here one can have that for up to 5 devices, so one would pay 2.99 per device/multi-sim per month then), but as user it is still a big win over paying for a full separate contract for using internet on a tablet for example which would be way more expensive than 2.99 per month (which then most people don't buy, which is the main reason 3G/LTE tablets are not the most popular version, the separate contracts just are too expensive to many and not everyone knows about options like multi-sim and in some countries those options are not available sadly).


        And regarding your worries about eSIM: Sadly: Exactly. It sadly looks like the cynic in you and me is right to be worried there.
        I read up more about eSims in the meantime, and yes, sadly it sounds more and more like as if you're spot on and it would be way more to the benefit of carriers and to the detriment of customers, to a degree where i think it would get rejected massively if they go with it that way.

        Now first: the positives: So the upside of physical space reduction remains (a bit) since no sim tray needed in the devices. Hence from what i could find, so far the first few devices released with standard implementing eSim are things like Smartwatches (A samsung Smartwatch released in several countries in Europe uses an eSim already for example).
        So that part of space saving makes a lot of sense for some types of devices.

        But then from there it gets murkier and murkier:
        So for example there is the hyped up theoretical simplicity of not having to put in/out a sim card to use a different sim card or use the sim card in a different device.
        But when one then looks at the fine print and actual implementations so far, these are the things i found online about it so far:
        -When you get a new contract, you don't just have a one click thing on your device to switch to that provider. No, you still get a card shipped from the provider, just that it now is a bigger card which has a QR code on it of which one makes a photo with the device and that then gets the eSim set up.
        So it was still several steps there for that example i found (including waiting for a card from the provider to be sent to you in case of an online order).
        Then, when one wants to use the device with another carrier or use the contract the profile for is applied on the esim to use it on another device, then it looks like one has to call the carrier.
        Horrible.
        So that is already SO much worse than if one could just put out a sim card and put it into another device.

        Then, what makes matters MUCH worse: i also read that already some carriers (like Deutsche Telekom in Germany) are intending to basically lock your eSim to them for the time of your contract as soon as you set up the eSim with them once.
        So then basically sounds like then trouble or at least messing around with the carrier needed to basically use your esim profile on another device and/or basically get your device "unlocked" to be able to use the eSim with another carrier's profile again.

        I listened to the Windows Weekly podcast where the topic was talked about and there the example of Apple's own eSim kinda thing for iPads in the US (Apple sim) was mentioned and how there already in the US AT&T then tries to lock your device to them when one uses that and then it was said but that would not happen with the standards conform other eSims but that seems to not be true based on those statements i read from Deutsche Telekom etc where yes, it indeed sounds like some carriers would then try to lock your eSim/device to them, too (at the very "least" for the duration of your contract with them).

        Overall i read a bunch of things on this in the meantime and some are not fitting together, but yeah, depending on how this gets implemented, yes, it could reduce hassle, but if implemented badly, and sadly it looks like the carriers are already very eager to screw it up, it could also instead lead to way more hassle for users and way less selection freedom and more lock in and then it could turn into something very horrible for users.

        So yes, it will be interesting to see how this progresses over the next few months/the next year, but if the carriers mess eSim usage up for users, then using a traditional sim with sim card users can easily replace could turn out to be a better alternative.


        So yeah, the carriers will have to do their best to not mess this up for users, else this eSim thing while very nice in theory could very quickly get rejected broadly.


        Like come on, who wants to scan QR codes or phone call their carrier to use their sim/contract on another device or who wants to have to deal with his/her unlocked device suddenly being locked to a carrier due to the carrier locking the eSim for the duration of the contract or other such nonsense.


        Again, to me personally, the thing is already dead in the water if i can't use my multi-sim easily or at all with it. But if they on top make regular main contract sim/profile usage difficult with such big stumbling blocks, they would really shoot themselves in the foot very broadly there.

        Yes, eSim sounds great in theory, but we'll see how much trust one can have in carriers to not royally screw it up.

        In theory it sounds great to not have to swap sim cards anymore and be able to use all the same or better way across devices, but the reality so far as implemented in the first few examples sadly paints a very different picture there.

  6. Dan1986ist

    The elephant in the room, how much more will these Always Connected PCs cost compared to those currently sold in retail without eSIMs? And what will the data plans be like, costwise?

  7. ken_loewen

    I've speculated that we're moving in the direction of individuals subscribing to flexible levels of computing power that reduces the load on a physical device's capabilities and relies instead on cloud-resident processors and storage. Why can't *many* individuals get their PC power from a virtual machine - especially if all they do is email and Facebook or light gaming. If the bandwidth issue is solved, why can't a gaming aficionado pay a variable fee to get gaming power when desired and ramp it down to "email only" speeds when that's the only need? Always-on would seem to be a useful capability in enabling this.

  8. Gregory Newman

    I noticed no mention of the good old Verizon network. I hope that Verizon gets on board with the always Connected efforts . i wonder if MS CEO Satya Nadella has contacted Verizon.net work to bury the hatchet yet. There are Millions of Americans who will buy these new mobile PC's who may have to get off the Verizon's Network because they are not included in this program

  9. Grizzly

    My understanding of E-sims is that manufacturers are allowed to build both Esim and a conventional sim card 'slot' into devices, whether they do will be determined by product, manufacturer decisions. If present a conventional sim card can then be installed when visiting countries that do not support Esim provisioning. Though I do agree that network operators will seize any opportunity to try and exploit the customer!


    Does anyone else here think this is what the Microsoft 'Paid WiFi and mobile data' app is for; it has been present in Windows now for over a year and even occasionally updated, it will either allow Microsoft to sell sims (provision Esims) and top up by your Microsoft account.


    With Arm chipsets having mobile/cellular component on board, will this mean all ARM pc's are potentially mobiles? Here in the UK more networks both mobile and landline seem to be moving their voice circuits over to the data networks (voice over LTE). So with platforms such as T-Mobiles Digits product your number can be on a several 'mobile' devices. This may even include the reinvented Skype, it even transposes the consumer and enterprise environments.


    This will become the norm when 5G networks launch. It seems easy to see that in the future your mobile number (or landline number) can be present on many devices, from your home phone, PC's tablets/laptop, latest iPhone, Android, your old Windows phone or feature phone. So you are not restricted to any one platform.


    So Microsoft just need to bring the phone part of Windows 10 mobile to any device that has cellular capability (or maybe even Skype)? The other important feature for this that seems to have been mentioned this week was always connected. My understanding is that this is a key component of mobiles / cellular devices as the network needs to know way you are. To me all the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to move into place.


    So could this be the democratising of the mobile industry?




    • nbplopes

      In reply to Grizzly:

      No, there will be a way to lock this down to the operator, This is a way for MS start some kind of PC subsidizing business model with mobile operators and carrier billing with the Windows Store. Probably in the near future you will see mobile operators selling Surfaces.

      Also expect to see carriers charging for each device you add to a phone number, that is if all devices are using the same carrier.

      Last note on calling, sending and receiver SMS messages from PCs, I guess this will only roll well once smartphones adopt eSim too and you know who the game changers are at the moment and I don't see them in the list funny enough. That is, if smartphones do not adopt this tech, this will be confined to data.

      Anyway, time will tell how this will play. I think eSim is the future.

      PS: Using today's most used tech there is also Wifi Calling. That is, some operator allow devices with no SIM card to make and receive calls over Wifi using the same phone number as your smartphone, even if the smartphone is offline. This is supported across all Apple devices assigned to the same iCloud account.

  10. cseafous

    Paul, does this initiative have any impact on their IOT efforts?

  11. wshwe

    IMHO just about every laptop and 2-in-1 should offer LTE as an option. It should rank right up there in importance to the amount of RAM and storage space.

  12. Sia Sharma

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    Du cutoff 2017

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  13. Waethorn

    I smell PC's-as-a-service, aka "the $80/mth PC".

  14. AliMaggs

    I hope this isn't too dumb a question, but is it an integrated eSIM that'll make it into the new Surface Pro later this year?

  15. david.thunderbird

    smells like a scheme to hit everyones data caps

  16. Chris_Kez

    I'm excited about this. I hope we see the current $100-$150 up-charge for connected devices come down significantly for Intel-based PCs. ARM-based PC's should benefit price-wise from an already integrated radio.

    I'd like to think that Microsoft will showcase an ARM-based replacement for Surface 3 at some point to stimulate interest in these new types of devices. It could cost the same as Surface 3 but provide LTE, more power, better battery life, an improved pen experience and still be thinner and lighter. I think this would be close to the ideal vision they had for a non-Pro Surface. In fact, they could just call it Surface.

  17. jimchamplin

    Calling eSIM a new technology is cute. It's simply including the functionality of what had for some unfathomable reason been a little tiny card into the radio. These guys crack me up when they act like every little change to mobile stuff is equivalent to the jump from 16-bit to 32-bit.

  18. chrisrut

    Talk about a paradigm shift! We evolved in a world where disconnection was the norm, and connection the special case. And with those tools we have created a world in which connection will be the norm, and disconnection the oddity. We as a specie value connectivity that highly.

    As I've said in the past, the impact on IT infrastructure will be enormous. Couple this with the move to the cloud and local IT complexity continues to shrink.

  19. Patrick3D

    Why would I [want] an "always connected" PC? I fail to see the benefit for the consumer. Corporations and governments will of course gain a treasure trove of tracking data, not just the location of the computer but the location of private wi-fi networks and other devices connected to those networks should your own device happen to be authenticated to them.

    • prettyconfusd

      In reply to Patrick3D:


      Well, PCs are already "always connected" at home and work or are you not connected to any networks (wired or WiFi)? The idea here is that rather than messing around with tethering your laptop or 2-in-1 or whatever to your phone when you're on the go, your PC already has a SIM inside that let's you connect to data wherever you are rather than being reliant on wherever there is free (and often unsecured) WiFi.


      As for consumer benefits? Have you never once needed access to some resource you didn't have locally on your laptop when travelling that being connected would help with? I sync my entire OneDrive down to my SP4 which helps but there's still occasions when I need to email or access a site or other online resource.


      And if nothing else, sometimes it's just useful to be able to YouTube or Netflix wherever you are! ;)


      And even better, it's a choice! You can switch on airplane mode if you like and your PC will never speak to anything else without you specifically choosing to. And those of us who do need the feature can still use it. Everyone's a winner!


      Besides, corporations and governments already get far more useful data on you if you've ever used a smart phone before.

  20. BoItmanLives

    Netbooks 2.0 are going to flop harder than Windows RT. Snapdragon 835 is a flagship part already being gobbled up by the Android OEMs so any new Netbook 2.0's aren't going to be cheap. WoA will be a battery pig since it's still just bloated Windows with it's decades of legacy code. And WoA won't support 64bit programs.

    Not sure who they think will even care about these frankendevices but emulation is going to make these slugs.

    You can stuff an elephant in a tutu but that doesn't make it a ballerina.

  21. MikeGalos

    And there we have the first real "generation change" in years.

  22. Daekar

    So... I get the excitement about Windows on ARM, but the eSIM thing just boggles my mind. Do they think we're going to fork out the bucks to the mobile providers? This feature is DOA for most people. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's a great feature, but the value proposition isn't there. We are already paying out the nose for data on our smartphones, paying even more to access the same internet on a different device just isn't going to happen.

    • Rob_Wade

      In reply to Daekar: Exactly right. I'm cool with this technology. It means we will see thinner devices without needing the hardware to support a SIM card, and it means no longer needing to acquire or swap out SIMs. This is a good thing. But I just laughed out loud at the statement "there are users that need to be connected to the cloud at all times". Seriously? First, with few exceptions, if we have a smartphone, we already ARE connected to the cloud at all times (as long as there's actually a decent signal, which is a problem that has NOTHING to do with device capability and is 100% on the carriers to fix). For most of us, we can slave our tablets/laptops TO our phones whenever we want. I carry my SP3 with me almost everywhere, so if it's not something I can do on my Lumia (or would just prefer to do on the tablet), I turn on my hotspot, whip out my SP3 and I'm working away. The REAL issue is that the carriers charge us additional fees for every additional DEVICE we want to add to the plan, and NATURALLY they are going to encourage customers to add our brand new LTE-enabled tablet or laptop to our plan and, of course we'll need higher data plans.

      So, the tech's cool, glad to see it coming, but the argument they're making for us to get excited about it is lame and absolutely the point of the fiscal agenda of carriers.


    • irfaanwahid

      In reply to Daekar:

      When the same option is available on other tablets, Galaxy Tabs and iPads/Pro, why is it more welcoming there than on Windows?

      Don't forget, PC options today include 2-in-1s which means you can take that PC and use it in tablet mode, where the SIM options makes most sense.

      I've SP4 and I've yearned for this option for a long time now.

      As I said in my other Reply, Windows however needs to have more control on up/downloads when active on SIM.

  23. TheJoeFin

    Will the Qualcomm based PCs have Thunderbolt 3?

  24. edboyhan

    Will this enable telephony as well, or is it just for data?

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