Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their thinking with our audience. In this piece Dina Tsybulskaya, CEO of eSIM Plus, looks at the growth trajectory of eSIMs and the obstacles still to be overcome.

Guest author

March 26, 2024

5 Min Read

In the last decade, the world witnessed a silent yet rapidly spreading undercurrent of peer-to-peer payments. Africa was among the hotbeds of this emerging innovation, as global telecom companies gave a fillip to the idea of financial inclusion by enabling payments between phone numbers. Mobile payments may have seen its origins in emerging economies of the world, but that early trend was just a precursor to the larger role that the telecom industry would come to play in the world of financial services. 

Enter the new decade and we have the parallel rise of digital banking; the perfect innovation to piggyback on widespread telecom inclusion. An intersection of two technologies, that promises to enable greater control for both enterprise and general consumers. 

eSIMs as a driver of digital finance

The recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona highlighted several telecom innovations, especially in the eSIM sector. Most importantly, the sector had its strongest year so far in terms of user adoption, spurred by the rise of smartphones and IoTs. 

At a surface level, the competitive advantage of eSIMs in driving financial services is quite evident. Simplified access and lower roaming costs thanks to real-time multi-operator switching, as well as the ability to integrate seamlessly with Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) have helped lay the foundation for secure networks. As purely cloud-based services, eSIMs can speed up integration processes with financial service providers, especially those serving the needs of digital natives. 

Intersection of manufacturers & operators

As digital banks and NBFCs venture into multiple segments of financial services, including cross-border payments and lending, telecom super apps can benefit from a unified marketplace-like platform. This approach can bring multiple MNOs together and enable easier voice/data access for customers anywhere in the world. For example, providing an existing banking customer with immediate access to a local number abroad for financial transactions, and vice versa, is something we can expect to see in the industry going forward, as telecom becomes more democratized. 

As smartphone manufacturers up the ante, operators have an equal role to play in eventually enabling this ecosystem. According to GSMA, the number of operators providing eSIM availability increased by 5 times in the last five years (2018-2023). eSIM technology is now available in 116 countries and supported by more than 400 operators around the globe. Like previous device-based trends, we can expect eSIM-supporting smartphones to move from the top price bracket to the average-price line-up. Apple’s rollout of eSIM-only smartphones in the US is expected to see a ripple effect among other manufacturers as well in the coming months. It’s obvious that this trend will accelerate further in the next two-three years, in a way repeating the story of 5G-supporting devices. 

The good thing here is that eSIM capability will become an obvious competitive advantage within the given price category as the technology itself will gain popularity and stimulate demand. The bigger the number of affordable eSIM-compliant devices, the faster the technology itself will penetrate, and the stronger the partnerships will become in establishing telecom super apps that offer simplified payments as a core feature of user experience. 

Will eSIM adoption coast along?

With all the positive tendencies, it may seem that mainstream MNOs and MVNOs will quickly latch on to this growing trend. Not to mention users flocking to the future of cloud-based connectivity. The numbers though, seem to suggest otherwise. 

As far as MNOs are concerned, data suggests that most operators are not very enthusiastic about promoting eSIM technology to their subscribers. eSIMs allow seamless, fully digital customer journeys which significantly decreases the provider switching costs, thus handing over more power into the hands of subscribers than operators would generally like to. 

With such perceived disadvantages at play, we are bound to see slower information dissemination about eSIM technology by the majority of the MNOs. In fact, recent reports suggest that only 11% of mobile users know what eSIM actually is and how customer friendly it is, indicating that knowledge sharing is mostly a solitary process for emerging users. 

On the user front, despite advancements in eSIM technology and decentralized infrastructure for revenue sharing, transition towards eSIM-only devices may not be fast. Majority of users are conservative and will prefer having both technologies available in their devices for a while, especially since physical SIMs still give a sense of fall-back safety. 

Frankly though, higher reliability of a physical SIM card is a myth, as an eSIM is even more reliable. Yet, this illusion may dominate until telecom operators themselves take up the baton of user awareness. 

While user curiosity can be staved off for now, not getting your users to transition to eSIMs will ultimately affect long-term business prospects. Partnerships are key to expanding user base, and eSIMs offer an untapped opportunity in the plateaued telecom sector, by allowing users to turn their single-SIM device into a multiple-SIM device. It’s definitely a case of the more, the merrier, and considering it’s the natural evolution of the ubiquitous plastic SIM, there’s no escaping it. 

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Dina Tsybulskaya, CEO of eSIM Plus, is an accomplished telecom leader with 20+ years of experience in various C-level positions across Europe. As CEO of eSIM Plus, she  is now building a unique telco service provider that gives its users  the freedom of truly global connectivity and the privacy of web3-based  functionalities.   

Prior to joining eSIM Plus, Dina was CEO and a member of the board at three different telecommunication providers - Turkcell, Telekom Austria AI and Deutsche Telekom Group, driving change and digital transformation.  As a sector thought leader, Dina has numerous publications and appearances  at various telecommunication forums globally.  Her strategic vision and ability to drive sustainable improvements in financial and operational performance make her a notable figure in telecommunications. Dina holds a master's in international relations and several professional diplomas and certificates, including the ones from INSEAD and Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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