Embedded SIM technology weaves its way into devices

cell phones
Smartphone makers are expected to introduce eSIM devices in upcoming iterations.

Efforts to get the Embedded SIM (eSIM) off the ground have been ongoing for years, but it looks as though things are snowballing enough that eSIMs will start to make a bigger impact through Microsoft’s eSIM for Windows 10.

Earlier this month, Oberthur Technologies announced the availability of a full GSMA Consumer Phase 2 eSIM solution validated for Microsoft Windows 10. Last month, Gemalto’s said it was presenting the newest release of its eSIM technology for Windows 10 devices in connection with Microsoft—also compliant with the latest specifications and guidelines for remote SIM provisioning as laid out by the GSMA.

Not to be outdone, Infineon Technologies exhibited what it described as the world’s smallest eSIM while at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona. eSIMs are being touted for everything from wearables to smartphones and cars.  

The GSMA has released the second version of its global specification that enables remote SIM provisioning in any consumer device, enabling the device to be provisioned with more than one operator profile, which extends the specification to a wider range of devices beyond the single companion device enabled by the first release of the specification. Device manufacturers and operators will be able to offer consumers the ability to select the operator and the device of their choice, and then securely download that operator’s profile to their device.  

Currently, few real eSIM devices exist beyond machine-to-machine implementations, some variants of Apple's iPad Pro and a few smartwatches, notes CCS Insight analyst Raghu Gopal in a blog post.Smartphone makers, waiting for the completed standard from the GSMA, will certainly introduce eSIM devices in upcoming iterations, but for now it seems that Windows notebooks or two-in-ones could be the opening act for the technology,” he said.

In 2016, Microsoft announced that its platform would provide native support for the eSIM specification, opening the possibility for Microsoft and its partners to sell airtime through their own channel, Gopal wrote. “One scenario here would be for intercontinental business travellers to stay connected across countries without concern for roaming costs. Apple has had some success in this space through its efforts with Apple SIM and the embedded solution offered in some iPads. However, for users, the process still involves switching from provider to provider to get the best local deal,” he said.

Beyond machine-to-machine and IoT implementations, it appears that smartphones are the core part of the eSIM development, he noted, causing a certain level of anxiety among wireless operators concerned about customers switching providers. Although it isn't guaranteed, eSIMs do increase the risk of a spike in subscriber churn, and operators will have to create strategies to maintain customer loyalty, he said.

The GSMA says its initiatives does not aim to replace all SIM cards in the field, but is instead designed to help users connect multiple devices through the same subscription and will help mobile device manufacturers to develop a new range of smaller, lighter mobile-connected devices that are better suited for wearable applications.

RELATED: GSMA nears agreement with Apple, Samsung et al on eSIM standard

The specification has attracted the backing of numerous operators, including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, and is supported by SIM and chipset vendors as well as device makers including Apple, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony and equipment providers like Nokia. T-Mobile US announced eSIM support in 2014.