The eSIM, untouchable but yet almighty

The next big trend shaking mobile consumers is not very big at all - at least not literally. On the contrary, it’s practically invisibly and we call it the eSIM. But what is this untouchable new way to stay connected all about and how will it change your connected devices for the better?

eSIM connectivity is at our fingertips with yet rather unexplored potential. Source: iStockphoto/ukayacan

The ‘e’ refers to “embedded”. Technically, the eSIM can take any form, but it is eventually expected to appear as an integrated chip set in all IoT devices that require cellular connection. The SIM will no longer need to be removed from the device at any time or any reason. The eSIM is a standardised chip open to multiple operators globally. There will no longer be any running around looking for physical SIMs in stores or swapping them when switching carriers. Both network and operator profiles can be switched seamlessly over-the-air without the end user ever even noticing. eSIM technology is here to stay for sure, only waiting for its big roll out. This global architecture standard is being promoted by the GSMA, which represents all the network operators. The key principles for the consumer RSP (remote SIM provisioning) compliance process is to support the endeavours to safeguard the integrity of the entire ecosystem.

This spring the GSMA released its second version of the global specification, which now enables remote SIM provisioning in any consumer device in order to better align all ecosystem participants when introducing eSIM. This specification enables any consumer device to store more than one operator profile simultaneously, while only one being in use at any time. In practice, device manufacturers and operators are now able to offer consumers the ability to select an operator of their choice and then securely download that operator’s SIM profile to their device. GSMA has provided a video tutorial to explain in simple how this remote SIM provisioning actually works with the embedded SIM in comparison to the removable SIM.

The most considerable experienced consumer benefits for smartphone users come from the freedom of choice and lower cost when it comes to switching to local operator when travelling or when searching for a better local carrier deal. Simply put, the worry of being locked to one carrier will be history. eSIM is bringing flexibility to home country connectivity but more importantly the freedom and ease of seamlessly accessing local networks is experienced within international travellers. It is safe to assume that eSIM could provide the answer for eventually removing the need for international roaming.

Consumers also experience eSIM through the whole evolution of smartphone design. eSIM is expected to drive devices to be more compact with better endurance for water and impact with a more seamless design. The removal of the SIM tray also frees up more room for larger battery. The deployment of eSIM also has environmental impact while it minimizes the discard of traditional SIM cards.

Not only will consumers experience the benefits with smartphones but with any smart consumers devices. For instance in IoT, eSIM technology offers easy equipment connectivity enabling opportunity for new products in new market segments. Mobile cellular connectivity can be extended to cover a range of enhanced smart watches, health bands, tablets, highly-portable health systems and other mobile connected devices at the same time making them smaller and smarter.

Future of eSIM

Although eSIM technology has already been widely used in IoT devices as well in the automotive sector, we don’t see it being commonplace among smartphones just yet. According to analysts IHS Markit the large-scale smartphone deployments by tier-one suppliers will not be coming until 2019. If you are ready to take the first steps to the next generation you can go for eSIM supported smartphones from ZTE or Google. ZTE being the pioneer launched a special edition of ZTE BLADE V7 and V8 LITE with global connection through our very own eSIM supported Goodspeed Roaming application already in February 2017. A bit later in fall 2017 also Google jumped this opportunity and launched the first smartphone as well with both embedded SIM and traditional SIM slot, the Pixel2. Apple has not yet stepped into smartphone market with eSIM, however equipping some iPads and the Apple Watch 3 with a single SIM based on their own version of embedded SIM technology. Samsung is currently following just a few steps behind bringing eSIM to its Gear S2 3G smart watch as a cautious start.

The eSIM is here to stay with the big roll out impending. For eSIM to reach its full potential and for global eSIM ecosystems to be built, both device and mobile operator network architectures need to be compliant with GSMA standards. Networks and carriers also need to support remote provisioning of profiles to make them available for users. Only when the technology is widespread can we see the change in the operation of connected devices and the eventual impact on consumer usage pattern. The transition away from traditional SIMs won't happen overnight, but the eSIM is expected to outgrow it by a large margin over the coming years.

In fall of 2017, UROS together with research experts at ROCCO produced an exclusive study of MNOs (Mobile Network Operator) views on eSIM for the roaming consumer, in order to better understand the MNOs’ point of view on the eSIM. In preliminary findings we can already see some surprising facts. For instance 70% of respondents found the eSIM a positive development in consumer roaming. Also, it was found out that 62.5% of the operators agree that eSIM could provide the answer for eventually removing the need for international roaming. This goes hand in hand what we have for a while known here at Goodspeed. The question of the ever-increasing demand for seamless global connectivity and affordable data can have an answer in local connectivity.

- Maarit @UROS