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An eSIM Q&A with Gary Waite

Q. Will eSIMs replace traditional SIM cards? A. Inevitably, yes – the only question is, how long will it take?

Q. Will eSIMs replace traditional SIM cards?

A. Inevitably, yes – the only question is, how long will it take? We used to buy music on physical media (CDs and cassette tapes), but now we simply download it digitally. It’ll be exactly the same for SIM cards – eSIM is the digital equivalent.

In the same way it’s now possible to listen to just about any song in seconds by downloading it, the same will be true of getting your mobile phone connected to whatever network you want, no matter where you are or even what time it is.

All the major mobile device manufacturers support eSIM in their products, and the GSMA, a trade association for mobile operators worldwide, predicts that by 2025, 35% of all smartphone network connections will be made via eSIM. It’s likely then, that by the end of the decade, SIM cards will be a thing of the past.

Q. What do eSIMs mean for switching networks?

A. Switching networks today means having to get hold of a new SIM card, either by visiting a retail shop or waiting for one to arrive in the post. Then, it means physically removing the old SIM card from the device (and locating that special tool or bending out a paperclip) then inserting the new one – hoping the new SIM card is the right size for the device! All these steps are tedious enough to put many people off switching networks at all…

eSIM turns all of the above into a few simple menu taps, and whilst phones can typically only hold one SIM card, an eSIM-enabled phone can hold several eSIM plans at the same time, with the user easily able to switch between them.

Some networks were worried about the advent of eSIM because they felt that churn would rise as a result of the ease of switching. As a matter of fact, customers who look to switch to eSIMs will still need to adhere to pre-pay and post-pay contracts.

One key benefit for the consumer with eSIM is when they travel abroad. They can now download a local SIM plan after they arrive at their destination (or even before they get on the plane). As nearly all eSIM-enabled phones also support dual-SIM technology, they can benefit from low cost data and still receive calls from their friends and family on their home number.

Q. What are the other advantages that eSIMs offer?

A. The SIM card, although it has progressively shrunk in size over the years (mini-SIM to micro-SIM to nano-SIM) is still quite a large component in a mobile device – too large for smaller devices like smartwatches and other wearables. eSIM reduces the hardware requirement down to a chip less than 2mm, therefore opening the door to a whole new range of small device form factors.

Even in smartphones, ‘real-estate’ inside the device is incredibly valuable, and the space taken up by the SIM card can be used for other purposes, including a bigger battery. Many will remember Apple ditching the headphone socket in the iPhone 7 for that very reason. Therefore, removal of the SIM tray brings new opportunity space, not to mention the additional advantage of device waterproofing.

It’s not just consumer devices that benefit either, eSIM solves many problems in the world of IoT (Internet of Things). Consider a smart meter manufacturer, deploying millions of electricity meters across the country. Today, each of these units will have a SIM card, meaning that if a network change is required, an engineer will have to visit each meter to swap out the SIM card – logistically complex and expensive. eSIM allows a wholesale change of network across the entire meter estate, should that be required, at the touch of a button.

In addition to getting customers connected much quicker and easier, there are further benefits for the networks too – the logistic costs of SIM cards, including warehousing and postage, which far outweigh the cost of the SIM card itself – all but disappear. eSIM allows networks to digitally distribute eSIM plans to customers no matter where they are.

Finally, we should not forget the environmental benefits of eSIM – today, more than 6 billion SIM cards are produced every year – that’s a great deal of plastic and potentially harmful chemicals going to landfill. eSIM will remove this completely.