Whispers of a No-Contract, Carrier-Jumping iPhone

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In Europe, where most of the carriers use GSM technology, someone with this type of iPhone could theoretically hop from network to network with ease. The rumor also indicates that this same universal SIM iPhone may contain a CDMA chipset as well—CDMA being the other major cell technology used by carriers such as Verizon and Sprint here in the U.S. and others abroad.

Carrier settings and billing?

The challenge of such a universally compatible phone is that it would rely on the user changing the phone’s settings to connect to different carriers and paying different bills to different providers based on usage.

However, Apple apparently has a patent in the works that would handle all this heavy lifting automatically and route payments through iTunes.

It’d effectively turn Apple into a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) similar to companies like TracFone here in the U.S.—the company re-sells no-contract airtime that it leases from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. In this case, Apple would handle your phone number and billing information.

According to Apple Insider:

“Traditional MVNOs purchase wireless minutes in bulk from existing carriers and resell them to customers. Apple’s system could set off a bidding war between providers, potentially driving prices down…

…Using Apple’s proposed system, a user could specify carrier preferences for different rates, locations and times that would then be dynamically selected by the iPhone.

An additional step that would likely enrage carriers would be for Apple to handle the accounting for the MVNO service and bill iPhone users through their iTunes account. Much like the controversial in-app subscriptions on the iPad, such a system would leave valuable user information in the hands of Apple, rather than the wireless carriers.”

That last section of the quote represents the biggest challenge that Apple would be up against—getting the carriers on board with such a system. It could potentially work abroad where there are a lot of service providers across multiple countries competing to sell airtime to users.

It’d likely be a harder sell in the U.S. to get all four major carriers on board—there’s just not enough competition here. It’d be too consumer-friendly and not carrier-friendly enough, in other words. I know, right?

More on TIME.com:

Is Apple TV Gaming Coming Soon?

The iPad 3 Rumor Mill Has Already Started Churning

Verizon iPhone Hits Stores

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