GSMA nears eSIM standardisation agreement


eSIMs to dramatically change the way the mobile industry is structured

The GSMA has announced today that it is nearing an industry-wide agreement for the creation of a standardised embedded SIM (eSIM), which would take over from today’s SIM cards. An eSIM, as technology embedded in consumer devices such as smartphones, would enable users to switch provider more easily.

At Mobile World Congress last March, the GSMA announced that was working with mobile network operators, mobile device manufacturers and SIM vendors to create a common and 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.

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.

Today, Anne Bouverot, chief executive at the GSMA, informed The FT that all those involved in the decision, including Apple and Samsung, which have so far been lagging behind in terms of enthusiasm for the idea, are nearing an agreement for a common architecture. Apple announced its own eSIM back in October last year, to be used with the latest iteration of the iPad. Apple’s eSIM has failed to make strong traction, however.

Today, SIM cards lock users into a specific agreement with a single network provider. Yet this would change significantly if the industry agreed to launch a standardised version of eSIM.

Windsor Holden, research analyst at Juniper Research, told Smart Chimps that the advent of eSIMS will have a serious impact on the mobile industry. He explained: “This will quite dramatically change the way the 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.”

He added: “Operators have already lost control of content as we’ve moved into an app-centric ecosystem, and this is one more step in that direction; the diminution of the power of the network operator.”

Yet mobile operators are seeing the benefits of a standardised eSIM for the industry. Francisco Montalvo, group devices unit director, Telefónica Group , said in March at the time of the GSMA announcement: “Remote SIM is a natural evolution in our industry. Making the right choices now in terms of technology, usability and user experience will ensure our consumers a successful transition without compromising the quality of service that they expect from the mobile network operators.”

Thorsten Müller, SVP core telco products at Deutsche Telekom, commented: “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.”

While Mats Svärdh, vice president networks and IT infrastructure at TeliaSonera, added: “As TeliaSonera sees clear benefits for our customers with an embedded SIM we are fully engaged with the GSMA in developing a joint standard. It is important that we work together to offer an increased customer convenience, consistent across the globe.”

Also, AT&T, which has been innovating in this area for years with its current eSIM solution called AT&T global SIM, is onboard. Said Chris Penrose, senior vice president, Internet of Things solutions, AT&T at Mobile World Congress:  “We look forward to continuing to work with the GSMA Consumer Remote SIM Provisioning initiative and carriers around the world to make it even easier for our customers to mobilise their world.”


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