Microsoft Store to Offer LTE Data Plans for eSIM PCs

Part of what makes an LTE-equipped Apple iPad so appealing is that you can activate a cellular data plan from major carriers in the US and abroad directly from the tablet’s Settings app, skipping an annoying phone conversation with a customer service representative. Microsoft plans to bring a similarly easy process for buying cellular data to its app store around the same time a new crop of always-connected laptops go on sale, Microsoft General Manager Erin Chapple told PCMag this week.

 The update will arrive in the next major release of Windows 10, known as RS4 and scheduled for release this spring. It will allow you to pick and choose a data plan from major US wireless carriers within the Microsoft Store, Chapple said. The new data plan interface will only work with laptops that have a built-in eSIM, which allows a carrier to identify it without installing a physical SIM card. eSIM-equipped laptops are currently few and far between. They include the Surface Pro and the upcoming Asus NovaGo, which is powered by a smartphone-class processor and LTE modem that allows it to remain connected to the internet even when it’s asleep, with very little impact on battery life.  Most current LTE-equipped laptops have physical SIM card slots, however, so they won’t be compatible with the new data plan interface. Apple gets around that limitation by including a custom reconfigurable SIM card in the iPad, while the iPad Pro has an eSIM.Chapple said Microsoft is working with several carriers to offer plans through the Microsoft Store, but declined to mention which ones. She also declined to comment on how much the plans would cost. Currently, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint all offer plans for iPads using Apple’s physical SIM or eSIM, but Verizon does not. The Microsoft Store currently offers a limited set of pay-as-you go data offerings from reseller Transatel, which include 200MB for one day ($4.99), 1GB for 15 days ($13.99), and 3GB for 30 days ($29.99).

64-Bit ARM Apps Are Coming

While a streamlined process for selecting a data plan might make laptops like the Asus NovaGo more appealing for people who are constantly on the go, their ARM-based Qualcomm processors result in slow computing performance, since they were originally designed to power smartphones. Apps written with 32-bit instructions for Intel processors run haltingly on these laptops, slowed down by an emulation layer, while 64-bit apps don’t run at all. That will change with an ucomping SDK for developers, which will let them translate their 64-bit Windows apps into ones that run natively on ARM-based processors, Chapple said. Software that can take advantage of 64-bit instructions is typically more reliable and faster, since it can use more memory than its 32-bit counterparts.