I was in Berlin at the start of February to attend the 4th World eSIM Summit. Having attended each of the previous events it was interesting to not just hear the latest news and developments from speakers and attendees, but also to gauge how much forward movement there has (or has not been) in the past few months.
In my introduction and opening remarks, I looked back at last year’s edition of the conference to see what was discussed and how much progression or change has taken place. If we only look at what we see around us and news regarding device releases, etc., then we might be disappointed as, on the surface, it appears that not much has changed. However, if we dig a little deeper then it is possible to detect advances necessary to facilitate broader adoption.
Majority of eSIM Development is Occurring Behind the Scenes
This included the approach to how consumer devices and eSIM services are activated and managed and the necessity for a digital mindset and strategy rather than simply replacing a physical SIM with a QR code (representing a physical SIM) for retail outlets. Similarly, how consumers are on-boarded and registered, with an authenticated and verified identity, as part of a digital user experience.
On the IoT-side of things, I highlighted automotive as the primary use case although there has been increasing activity around supply chain and logistics use cases, primarily with a tracking element to optimise operational management and efficiencies. I had to raise the activity relating to iSIM as a point of interest as this could open up a number of new use cases and sectors, especially in LPWA IoT networks. The companies involved with iSIM are notable, including Deutsche Telekom, Arm, Qualcomm, Huawei/HiSilicon, Sierra Wireless and Telit amongst others, between them offering a broad reach and partner network to move the market forward and encourage adoption. The first solutions are being certified and approved by MNOs, including Verizon, KDDI and others and the GSMA has confirmed to me that it will be incorporating iSIM into its eSIM specifications.
Barriers remain though – not necessarily devices available, this is relatively easily remedied. I highlighted areas that I hope to see progress over the next 12 months. The question of permanent roaming in a number of countries, notably including China, Russia and Brazil, remains a barrier to adoption that needs to be resolved. The lack of roaming agreements with LTE-M and NB-IoT network operators and the technical configuration (e.g. SMS for profile delivery) to fully support eSIM and remote SIM provisioning (RSP) will limit IoT adoption in the short-medium terms. The lack of eSIM compatibility with 5G is another issue to be addressed which will affect both IoT and consumer adoption.
Latest News Shows eSIM Advancing + Opening New Use Cases
There have been some notable product launches and eSIM is definitely seen at this stage as a differentiator and an enabler of new form factors, services and innovation – as highlighted by the new Land Rover Defender with two eSIMs and modems for secure access and updates and for infotainment services and Lenovo’s and Motorola’s new folding PC and smartphone respectively.
I also selected some highlights in terms of recent news and developments that I felt were significant for the market. Ericsson’s big push on its consumer-facing eSIM platform is intended to boost support and services with its MNO customer-base whilst HMD has a new trademark application for an eSIM-related trademark called “SIMLEY” which encompasses additional use cases (beyond mobile connectivity services), including financial services and a digital (crypto) wallet, user authentication, identity and location-based services. On the IoT side, Nordic Semiconductor and iBASIS have completed extensive field-trials across 24 countries for LTE-M and NB-IoT networks intended to address some of the concerns around eSIM on LPWA networks.
Making eSIM Simpler to Boost Adoption
Development and advances were in evidence from many of the speakers at the event too. My overall impression was that eSIM technology/solution vendors and service providers are trying to make eSIM deployment, activation and management easier – to make it as automated and seamless as possible by removing some of the initial pain points. The standout point for me from Thales’ opening presentation was on its new “Out-of-the-Box Cellular Connectivity”. After highlighting that users want simplicity and MNOs want digitalisation of services and availability across multiple devices – all of which can be enabled by eSIM in the right model/strategy – the message was about providing options for activation of consumer devices. The final piece being Thales’ award winning (IoT Global Awards 2019) solution which allows devices to connect to the mobile network without the need for a profile to be pre-loaded. The network can be predetermined, or the device can connect with the best available network, simplifying the process by automating the first step.
Arm also spoke about how it has identified the first steps of activating and provisioning an eSIM-enabled IoT device as an area for improvement. It too is working to improve out-of-the-box connectivity for IoT devices, outlining how it is enabling any device to connect via any data to any network and any cloud. It achieves this having built a full end-to-end ecosystem in its iSIM/eSIM portfolio, including its PSA, MBED OS, Kigen OS and Pelion platform. I’ve said before that Arm is a company that has clearly set out to implement a strategy that builds upon its core business, with more connectivity and security services and its presentation showed how its R&D and acquisitions in recent years fit together to deliver this.
The Necessity of a Digital User Experience (Finally!)
Other speakers, such as Turkcell, focussed on the user experience, more from a consumer perspective. This is an area which I have previously highlighted as an issue, concerned that the initial thinking that putting eSIM into the traditional physical SIM distribution model would be a massive missed opportunity. eSIM offers the potential to open up the market (in terms of breadth, type and quantity of devices) that MNOs might be able to support for consumers and it has been acknowledged that, if done right, then MNOs can grow by offering new commercial services and business models. Highlighting its Mobile Multi Device service, Turkcell was clear that it sees new services to enhance its users’ experiences as the way to fend off non-traditional competitors who are chipping away at telco’s traditional voice and data businesses and eSIM opens up new options for it to do this, initially in the automotive space.
A company which has already made great strides with eSIM is Truphone. Its presentation went beyond the initial stage of how to rollout eSIM or on-board customers; it has been doing this a while and stated that it has provisioned over 4 million eSIMs to date and is activating 15,000 eSIM downloads each day. It highlighted the infrastructure and processes it has in place to ensure its services are robust and secure as well as the measures that it has put in place to detect and block any attempts of fraud. This is all part of Truphone’s digital offer, from apps to profile delivery and lifecycle management, backed up by trusted infrastructure, monitoring and control.
Flexibility is Key to Achieve eSIM Success
Orange built upon this regarding the sign-up and on-boarding process and recognition that one-size does not-fit-all and that customers will need different options, depending upon their location, situation, requirement, device type, etc. Specifically, Orange highlighted how modern tariffs have gone beyond voice and data and now it is how they can serve multiple devices for single (groups of) users. JT Global (Jersey Telecom) stressed that different business models are needed for different types of clients, different sectors, etc. It is speaking from experience given that JT’s share of company revenues derived from IoT deployments is some way above the industry average. This flexible approach extends to eSIM deployments and JT views eSIM as the perfect way to sell VAS to their customers.
It is no longer early days for eSIM, the market has advanced and progressed – largely for the better – and realisation that eSIM is a digital solution that needs digital strategies, business models and processes to serve the market is a big step. However, there is some way to go and choices and options remain for how OEMs and MNOs may want to utilise eSIM. 1oT, an independent aggregator in partnership with Valid, is allowing customers to choose which of its MNO partners’ networks and tariffs they wish to select via a cost comparison portal. NXP spoke of how it now offers its embedded secure element with eSIM and NFC capabilities in a single chip. Deutsche Telekom provided a great presentation on its nuSIM (iSIM) solution which has made it into production with semis and module manufacturers and is now being certified by MNOs and service providers ahead of deployment.
All of this shows that the premise of eSIM (and iSIM) is expanding and the ecosystem and it is evolving to allow service providers and end-users flexibility in how they wish to make use of it. Do I think all the issues have been solved? No, there remains some way to go and all parties have to realise that they cannot be too rigid or try to place too high a premium on eSIM – if they do this then an alternative will be sought – but it opens doors and creates new opportunities. The winners will be the ones that recognise this, not trying to constrain or restrict the market in any way, instead seeking to offer simpler routes to market whilst providing choice to their customers and delivering a modern, digital customer experience.