International roaming as we know it is on the verge of becoming obsolete: the EU has proposed a single network for all European countries, T-Mobile no longer charges customers when surf the web abroad, and apps like Ringo help you tap onto local networks to circumvent pricey roaming packages and overages. Now, Apple is also getting in on the act with Apple SIM, a proprietary SIM card built into the new iPad Air 2.
In theory, Apple SIM allows users to swap mobile networks as they travel without changing the actual SIM card inside their device. Whereas previous devices have included dedicated SIM cards that are tied to a single carrier, this update has the ability to detect local telecom signals and offer short-term plans with the corresponding carrier. That means travelers toting their iPads to London might be given a pop-up option to sign up for a week-long subscription to EE, rather than using their home network’s more expensive roaming rates.
The innovation carries the potential for serious disruption, especially if it can be rolled out to smartphones in its next generation. But so far, the only international carrier that’s jumped on board is the aforementioned EE, which serves the UK. Whether other international networks will embrace the technology remains to be seen—though Apple claims that they’re making the process transparent and that networks won’t be charged to join. Still, domestic carriers may be reluctant to offer compatibility—in fact, Verizon has already decided not to support Apple SIM.
Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.