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

The GSMA is closing in on an agreement that could see the mobile industry move collectively towards using a standardised embedded SIM (eSIM) as opposed to today's SIM cards.

Anne Bouverot, director general at the GSMA, told the Financial Times that all parties involved in the decision--including Apple and Samsung, which have been lagging behind others in terms of their enthusiasm for the idea--are nearing an agreement for a common architecture.

The GSMA announced at the Mobile World Congress in March that it was working with mobile network operators, mobile device manufacturers and SIM vendors to create a common, global specification for the remote over-the-air provisioning and management of connectivity to consumer devices.

The GSMA said the industry-wide initiative would allow consumers to activate the SIM embedded in a device such as a smartphone, tablet or wearable with the mobile network operator of their choice. It added that a common approach and consistent user experience will also help to grow the market by allowing consumer device manufacturers to build products that support global deployment.

As things stand, the GSMA Consumer Remote SIM Provisioning initiative has received strong industry support from mobile operators including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa, KDDI, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Ooredoo, Telefónica, TeliaSonera, Telstra, Turkcell and Vodafone.

An eSIM would also enable users to switch service provider more easily. Today, SIM cards lock users into a specific agreement with a single network provider. Windsor Holden, research analyst at Juniper Research, commented that the advent of the eSIM would fundamentally change the face of the mobile industry food chain.

"This will quite dramatically change the way the [mobile] industry is structured. At the present time all contracts are dependent on you signing up to a network operator, and the contact is for a single network operator. However, eSIMs would mean you'd have a lot more freedom. This is another step towards the greater erosion of the mobile network operator's stranglehold on the mobile value chain," Holden said.

However, mobile operators see potential in a standardised eSIM. In March, Thorsten Müller, SVP  of core telco products at Deutsche Telekom, said: "What we want to achieve with eSIM is simplicity and convenience for our end customers. Adding a device to my personal data plan will become as simple as scanning a barcode."

Mari-Noelle Jego-Laveissière, EVP for innovation at Orange, said at the time of the GSMA industry initiative announcement that Orange "is committed to develop with the GSMA an open embedded SIM solution accessible to all the industry that would offer a convenient and simple user experience for customers in any circumstances as the existing SIM. This solution should also ensure a high secure environment to protect customers' privacy."

Apple announced its own eSIM for its latest versions of the iPad last October. At the time, the FT said AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile were working with Apple on enabling the platform in the U.S., while EE was to work on the platform in the UK. However, there has been little demand for the Apple eSIM, sources told the paper.

The FT quoted the GSMA as saying: "With the majority of operators on board, the plan is to finalise the technical architecture that will be used in the development of an end-to-end remote SIM solution for consumer devices, with delivery anticipated by 2016."

For more:
- see this FT article (sub. req.)
- see this press release from the GSMA

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