The Verge has spotted a mysterious app in the Windows Store. Published by Microsoft, the “Cellular Data” app “allows you to connect to a trusted nationwide mobile data network using only your Microsoft account.”
The app, which seems to work in the UK, US, and France, says that connectivity bought this way requires no contracts or long-term commitment, allowing short-term access to LTE data at your convenience. This will be a useful addition for systems like the Surface 3, which come with integrated LTE support.
While this seems useful already, the unusual part is a sentence in the app’s description: “This app is designed to work solely with specific Windows 10 devices and requires a Microsoft SIM card” (emphasis ours). The implication here is that Microsoft will be offering some kind of carrier-independent SIM card, with the app providing the necessary configuration to plumb it in to a network. This sounds similar to what Apple started doing when it updated the iPads in late 2014, though Microsoft has yet to formally announce any intent to offer anything comparable. Alternatively, Microsoft could have signed a number of MVNO deals to piggy back off other services, similar to what brands such as Straight Talk and Virgin do.
The Cellular Data app makes a nice partner to the Microsoft Wi-Fi app that provides similar integrated payment for paid Wi-Fi hotspots. With the right hardware and that special SIM, Windows users should be able to get online one way or another no matter where they are, using their Microsoft accounts to pay the bill.
Update: Per Engadget, Microsoft has signed a deal with Transatel, an MVNO which will be operating in some 50 different countries by the end of the quarter. It’s still not clear exactly how the service will work; some MVNOs, such as Straight Talk, allow you to pick which provider’s network you use. Others, such as Virgin, do not.