It has been many years now, and the good old SIM (the long description being subscriber identification module) card in all its physical glory, has existed inside our phones. This is what connects our phones with the mobile networks, to access voice and data services. It survived the onslaught from the CDMA technology a few years ago and has itself morphed over time to better fit the requirements of the newer smartphones—full-size SIM to a mini-SIM to a micro-SIM to a nano-SIM. Now however, the SIM card is facing its biggest ever threat—from what is being called an E-SIM, also called an Embedded-SIM. The E-SIM is being integrated in phones that you can buy, for a while now. But the time is ripe for the next evolution beyond smartphones. Laptops, smart home devices and now smart cars are the ideal platforms to utilize the advantages of direct connectivity.
The simple definition of an E-SIM is that it is integrated into the smartphone you have just purchased, and you don’t really need a physical SIM to access mobile services. For a mobile service provider, the process remains the same—they will provision you with a unique mobile number after collecting the details necessary, including your phone’s IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number. You will never get to hold or touch this virtual SIM card. In a way, the process remains the same if the E-SIM is integrated into any other device as well, that requires connectivity.
The biggest advantage is that the information on this E-SIM module is rewritable, which means you can simply disconnect from one mobile service provider and sign up for another without having to specifically get a new physical SIM card. You might still have to jump through hoops to get the know your customer (KYC) verifications done as dictated by the regulations of the country you reside in, but in theory, an E-SIM lets you swap mobile companies almost instantly.
Which devices support the E-SIM? Some of the recent phones do. The Apple iPhone X, the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR, for instance, have made the E-SIM technology mainstream. The Apple iPad Pro 12.9, Apple iPad Pro 11, the new iPad Air and the new iPad Mini are all adopting the E-SIM technology. Google also integrated the E-SIM in the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL phones. “While most existing devices still have a physical SIM slot or must be tethered to a device that is, eSIMs are beginning to take hold in a strong way. We can already see this with some of the latest smartphones (including from iPhone, Samsung and Pixel), Apple Watch Series 4, 14 new Windows laptops from multiple OEMs, as well as numerous tablets and other smartwatches,” says Pankaj Lamba, Customer Business Executive, APAC, Amdocs. Amdocs is a global software and services provider to communications and media companies, headquartered in the US.
In India, E-SIM is offered by Airtel and Reliance Jio at the moment. If you already have a prepaid or postpaid mobile connection with either of these mobile service providers in India, you can switch to an E-SIM with your compatible smartphone, tablet or smartwatch. Vodafone in India is yet to launch E-SIM services for smartphones.
“This ‘smart’ era is introducing networked appliances, cars, factories, cities and homes - eventually digitizing toasters and other devices, which actually have no internet features whatsoever. These will no longer only include high-end categories, but will be available as such to the average consumer, as a tailored turn-key solution will be a natural part of any initiated smart project. Almost everything will become a computer and connect through technologies invisible to consumers, such as 5G, LTE-M and Zigbee,” says IoT solutions company Uros in an official post.
If there is enough traction, the E-SIM technology could actually become a lot more common, and not just in smartphones and tablets. For instance, smart home devices, wearables and even connected cars could utilize this technology. For instance, the upcoming Hyundai Venue and the MG Hector vehicles can be classified as connected cars, which will have an E-SIM embedded allowing the car to have its own channel of data connectivity to drive features such as remote management and apps—they will not be dependent on you plugging in a smartphone for apps and functionality to work. “As smart devices become increasingly ubiquitous, so will the demand for networked connectivity services. Whether it’s smart home, smart car, consumer wearables, factory systems and equipment (such as for power plants, manufacturing facilities and warehouses), the demand for mobile, wireless connections will skyrocket across every consumer and business market. And as 5G gains traction and becomes the standard for seamless and reliable connectivity, this trend will intensify even further,” says Lamba.
“eSIM is the only globally-backed remote SIM specification for consumer devices. This universal approach will grow the Internet of Things by allowing manufacturers to build a new range of products for global deployment based on this common embedded SIM architecture,” believes GSMA, the association which mobile networks globally are a part of.
As a technology, the E-SIM isn’t exactly new anymore. But it is being talked about more than ever before, which definitely means the chances of adoption increase significantly. As consumer preferences change towards smarter homes and smarter cars that can be managed and controlled from their smartphone apps, the requirements of connectivity will perhaps find an ideal ally in the E-SIM technology.