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October 10, 2019
Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article, Helen Gaden of the MVNOs Series talks us through some of the key findings of a recent report they conducted into the current state of the e-SIM Market.
A year ago, the announcement by Apple that its new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR handsets were to feature an e-SIM as part of a dual SIM configuration was meant to mark a watershed moment for embedded SIM technology. Surely, with arguably the world’s most iconic smartphone brand now embracing e-SIM, the world would see a rush of manufacturers following in its wake, and the beginning of the end for the removable SIM card.
That hasn’t quite happened. One of the reasons is likely to be that e-SIM compatibility is not a one way street. Not only do manufacturers have to take the decision to build hard-wired SIMs into their devices, but operators also have to change the way they provision network services to a device – for example, by adopting means of downloading a user’s subscription profile onto the embedded SIM, rather than just scanning the profile already contained on a removable chip.
Even though Apple, like Google before it with the pioneering Pixel e-SIM phone, has adopted the GSMA’s specifications, the industry has yet to see significant collaboration between OEMs and operators about how remote provisioning might work in practice. This has caused a delay in operators offering e-SIM services that new Apple XS and XR owners can take advantage of, which in turn has probably led to other manufacturers deciding there is no rush to bring their own e-SIM devices to market.
As Andrei Ivanov, Principle Technology Architect and CTO of Canadian telco Telus says, the last 12 months have been characterised by a slow trickle of operators making e-SIM services available for smartphone owners and developing ways to deliver connections. “Initial steps are to make e-SIM available for consumer via a printed QR code mechanism, with a transition to app-based enablement likely in the future,” he said.
Amongst operators, the earliest adopters of e-SIM in the wake of the Apple announcement were international roaming specialists like Truphone and KnowRoaming, which recognised the immediate benefits to their business model of offering seamless connectivity to multiple networks as people travel. Working with Japan’s KDDI, GigSky has since built an e-SIM-based travel solution which is provisioned and managed through an app, as described by Ivanov. In terms of e-SIM services in domestic markets, early adopters include the likes of DNA in Finland, and Indian carriers Airtel and Reliance Jio.
Another operator to launch e-SIM services domestically this year is Sri Lanka’s Dialog Axiata, although its focus has been largely on delivering eSIM M2M solutions for commercial and industrial markets. Lead Engineer Amila Saputhanthri said: “The physical SIM is one of the main drawbacks in IoT solutions. Therefore the eSIM with remote SIM provisioning capability will attract more users sooner than later.
“2G and 3G networks will be shut down [in Sri Lanka] in the near future to minimize operational costs. Therefore future proof technologies such as NB-IoT and e-SIM are expected to be adopted across industry.”
Gregory Gundelfinger, CEO of global e-SIM and connectivity solutions specialist Telna, agreed that e-SIM was enjoying a lot of popularity in the IoT market, but believes it is yet to have anything like its full impact. “E-SIM is an imperative enabler for the future of IoT/M2M, it makes the deployment process simple and efficient,” he said. “This year, Telna has expanded its portfolio with white-list branded e-SIM solutions for business and consumers. It is a catalyst in the market.
“There are multiple innovative IoT use cases coming to market every day and the e-SIM has the power to transform and accelerate these developments.”
In terms of the future prospects for e-SIM, a recent forecast paper from Counterpoint Research predicted that shipments of e-SIM-based devices will reach almost two billion units by 2025, with a CAGR of 27%. It anticipates that most of this growth will be driven by the smartphone and IoT device markets, although it also expects devices like mobile hotspots, routers, PCs and laptops, drones and smartwatches fitted with e-SIM to grow in popularity.
One other interesting observation the report makes is that, despite the GSMA’s work to standardise e-SIM specifications, the majority of connected devices in circulation without a removable SIM currently make use of proprietary software alternatives, collectively known as soft SIM. This is largely down to the size of the soft SIM market in China. The paper’s authors predict that embedded hardware versions built to use the GSMA’s standard will become the norm over the next few years, although it also believes integrated SIM (iSIM), in which the UICC forms part of a larger chipset (system-on-a-chip, or SoC) will eventually become more popular in IoT.
For an in-depth examination of the e-SIM market as a whole, download the free report here.
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