eSIM ready to go mainstream as operators relax control

Telecoms operators have become more open to the idea of their customers using devices with eSIM technology, which will be in more than half of smartphones sold globally in five years, new research claims.

Mary Lennighan

June 6, 2024

3 Min Read

The numbers come from analyst firm CCS Insight, which estimates that the proportion of smartphones sold with support for embedded SIM will come in at 56% in 2028, up from 27% last year.

Uptake has not been stellar so far, though. There are more than 200 eSIM-enabled devices to choose from, backed by 800 operators, but while adoption grew by more than 150% last year, there are still only 150 million in use worldwide. That seems like a fair number, until you consider that globally cellular subscriptions number 8.9 billion.

Mobile operators have – understandably – shown some reluctance to support eSIM in smartphones. As the analyst firm points out they were concerned about losing ground to the big technology companies, encouraging competition into their space and losing roaming revenue. But the potential upsides of the technology, including the almighty dollar, have helped to turn the tide.

"We found a shift in sentiment among operators to be more accepting of the technology and increasingly optimistic about new opportunities it can enable," said Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight.

"These include supporting more digital customer journeys, attracting new customers, improving environmental credentials and achieving major cost savings, estimated by the research to total more than $3 billion in the industry by 2028," Mann said.

While the support of operators will help push the market forwards, it is not they, but the device makers, led by Apple, that are really in the driving seat.

CCS Insight notes that the catalyst for growth was the arrival of the first eSIM-only iPhone in the US in 2022, something that has pushed others to also make the move to eSIM and thereby left many consumers with little choice but to accept the technology.

It seems unlikely that most consumers would resist the idea of an embedded SIM. There are plus points for any that take the time to consider them, such as a potentially smoother switching process when changing operator or a beneficial roaming deal, but very little on the minus side, aside from a dislike of change. Ambivalence is the most likely consumer reaction here. Presumably the analyst firm is not trying to suggest that consumers are being forced into an eSIM world against their will though.

Many consumers are now aware of the technology. Research conducted by CCS Insight in March in the UK, the US, Germany, Spain and Australia showed that 10% of people in those markets have already used an eSIM for international roaming, which is emerging as a key eSIM market. "A flood of specialist providers have entered the market in recent years, offering more convenient and affordable options to access mobile data when travelling," CCS Insight notes.

Encouragingly for those players, and other proponents of the technology, more than 60% of people who had yet to use eSIM for roaming said they would consider doing so in future.

Overall, four in ten people said they had heard of eSIM and more than three quarters of respondents said they were interested in the technology once it had been explained to them, although many did not fully understand the benefits.

Communicating those benefits is, therefore, a challenge for the industry going forward.

"It could be that those companies best able to guide their customers along this path will end up being the most successful," CCS Insight predicts.

And getting consumers onside will be key if the firm's broader eSIM prediction is to come to fruition: that eSIM is poised to be the next mobile industry disruptor.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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