The eSIM looks set to make it into mainstream technology and in some quarters this has been hailed as an evolution in mobile communications. In China, Xiaomi have released the Xiaomi Mi Notebook Air 4G fitted with an eSIM, and the forth coming Microsoft Surface Pro 5 is strongly rumoured to feature the technology. Apple and Samsung have been talking to network operators to secure eSIM deals for their forth coming products for over a year.
With these development what exactly is an eSIM and how will it change communications for the better?
The Global Reach of the eSIM
The idea of an eSIM is that it integrates into devices such as laptops, tablets, and phones. When not in a Wi-Fi zone, the device will detect and connect to a network automatically, or give the user a choice of which network they want to use. No tethering is required allowing the device to travel across borders and still have full connectivity. In theory this should not incur expensive tariffs costs as it does at the moment, and from a user perspective the need to carry multiple sims is negated.
For business users that travel, which London has many, this will make overseas business a lot easier to conduct and cut costs.
The Hardware Benefits of an eSIM
Unlike the standard SIM which users insert into their phones, eSIMs are built into the device. Although this may sound like a retrograde step the idea behind the eSIM is to provide a universal way of connecting to mobile networks. In actuality the choice of provider will be increased as devices will no longer become locked to a network as they are now.
The eSIM is also smaller than standard SIMS. This will allow designers to build in more innovative features utilising the extra space.
The Challenges Network Operators Face
The eSIM has the potential to change the way operators offer their packages to the consumer. Many restrictions the consumer faces at the moment no longer will apply. Switching from one operator to another at the end of a contract will no longer incur costs and there will no wait for a new SIM card. In theory this will simply be a question of selecting the operator from a dropdown list and filling in an online form.
Although this change will not be immediate, as billions of devices with standard SIMS will be operating for a few years yet, eventually the way network operator packages are marketed and priced will change and probably become more competitive as a result.
Why has eSIM taken so long to Develop?
In 2014 Apple released the Apple SIM. The technology behind it was based on mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) technology. Users could insert the SIM into their iPAD Air 2 and iPAD Mini 3 devices and they could connect to the internet via a mobile operator which the user could choose. This is the basis of an eSIM but it was limited to UK and US providers, and not every provider was on the respective lists.
Since this development the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association), a trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators has been in negotiations to standardise the hardware necessary for eSIM technology to be usable. The fruits of this negotiation seem to be coming to fruition. According to GSMA, around twenty operators, two leading machine to machine (M2M) alliances, and a host of original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have backed eSIMs.
The only downside to the eSIM is that it relies on a good mobile network. Although London will receive infrastructure investment it currently has mobile dead zones. No doubt this will be the case in other parts of the world too.
That said, the eSIM will still give users more freedom and better services than they are getting at the moment.