Industry Thought Leadership

eSIMs in Handsets - The Next Big Disruption

January, 2019
Saleem AlBlooshi
Chief Infrastructure Officer

Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC)

The eSIM technology is the latest advancement in Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) technology. It is a global specification by the GSMA which enables remote SIM provisioning of any device that supports this technology. The embedded Subscriber Identity Module, commonly referred to as eSIM, allows end users to store multiple profiles on a device simultaneously, and switch between them remotely, without having to physically carry SIM cards. Because it is embedded within the mobile device, the eSIM cannot be removed easily.
According to ABI Research, over 400 million eSIM smartphones, including the already available Apple XR, XS and XS Max e-SIM supported devices, will enter the global market by 2022.

How does it work?
Although the role of SIM technology isn’t changing with the introduction of eSIM, and that the SIM’s functionality aspects remain the same, the way in which it is used will change dramatically.

To enable this change, an ecosystem of trusted platforms and players has been facilitated by the GSMA to create the eSIM solution. It offers an equivalent level of security and protection to that provided by the removable SIM card. By having a programmable SIM card for networked devices, they can be connected, managed and controlled remotely for end users.

What are the benefits for consumers?
eSIM enables remote SIM provisioning for e-SIM supported devices.

For consumers, this means they can use different phone numbers for separate voice or data plans, all on one device. If they travel abroad, they will be able to switch to a local carrier that supports eSIM and access that operators network remotely.

Consumers will appreciate the simplified user experience and benefit from eSIM, such as shorter time required to connect a device to a network, simplified handling and more reliability, since the eSIM is embedded in the device itself. Having an embedded SIM also minimizes the risk of SIM damage, allows more room within the phone for other purposes, and will ultimately mean that future developments of mobile devices will become slimmer as well as enable enhanced connectivity.

Beyond the consumer segments, eSIM technology has advantages that extend to new business models through different implementations for Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions for enterprise devices.

eSIM enables Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to offer subscriptions to millions of new devices without the existing SIM card logistics, and to improve the customer experience with “immediate” connectivity for their new device. Device Vendors can manufacture devices with a single generic eSIM that can be delivered and connected anywhere in the world. Service Providers can simply and remotely change the subscription profile.

According to Ericsson close to 29 billion connected devices are expected to be in use by 2022, with around 18 billion related to IoT. This will add convenience through cost reduction for logistics and minimises the need for handling of legacy SIM cards. This also opens up new use cases for remote device management and will become more and more beneficial to many industrial sectors as 5G cellular mobile communications reach deployment in the GCC.

What are we doing around eSIM?
As a recent report into the future of eSIM, from Oliver Wyman, indicates, “the eSIM era has arrived and is here to stay”. Illustrating this further, the forecast number of connected objects “range anywhere from 25 billion to 75 billion connected devices by 2020”.

In the UAE, EITC has brought this technology to life for both consumer and enterprise segments in partnership with Munich-based Giesecke+Devrient Mobile Security, by using its AirOn eSIM Management Solution. This technology has brought the next evolution of SIM technology closer to customers and means that EITC is better equipped to allow remote subscription provisioning of eSIM subscriptions to eSIM devices based on AirOn remote SIM Management Solution. To avail of du’s eSIM solutions, all consumers need to do is to request a change from physical to eSIM at their nearest du store or request a new mobile connection through a du store or online if they are new to the operator.

What are the key challenges for its implementation?
M2M eSIM solutions will present key challenges for end users, especially enterprise applications, as the level of connectivity needed to power the millions of eSIM that will be enabled connections in coming years could lag behind the growth in eSIM popularity. According to a report from Accenture, companies in the US are projected to spend upwards of US $275 billion to revamp infrastructure to handle the increase in network speed and connectivity. The full deployment of 5G cellular mobile communications will facilitate this challenge and is expected to rapidly transform the number of M2M use cases as networks become faster and more powerful.

Thankfully, an ecosystem of trusted platforms and players has been facilitated by the GSMA to create consumer and enterprise eSIM solutions. These will provide a global network of eSIM enablers and operators with a mandate within the framework of GSMA which will create global standards for eSIM rollout to avoid individual solutions disorganizing the global eSIM market.