Apple are set to change the way we use SIM cards with their new concept for eSIM technology. In December, the U.S Patent and Trademark Office published 48 recently granted patents for Apple Inc. One of the most potentially ground-breaking patents granted was entitled “Framework to Provision an eSIM and make it Multi-SIM capable using Primary Account Information”.
An eSIM as described in this patent will eventually eliminate the need to buy a physical SIM card, make it easier to change carriers, allow multiple accounts on the same device, or allow multiple devices to use the same account. Thanks to Apple, it looks like it’s about to become easier to compare and change phone carriers, without having to get a physical SIM.
In present-day devices, multiple SIM capability means that users can have two physical SIM cards in a single user device. Being able to switch between SIMs on the same phone makes it possible to access the best qualities of different carrier plans. It is also ideal for business owners, who want to use a single phone but have separate personal and business numbers that are accessed by the same primary handset.
However, Apple’s new patents are going to leave traditional multi-SIM technology in the dust. Future devices will include an eSIM that is pre-downloaded on selected Apple devices. As well as eventually replacing a physical SIM card, this advance will also eliminate the need to buy a separate SIM card for secondary accounts and secondary devices like iPads and Apple smartwatches.
The Present SIM Situation
Currently, network subscribers are allocated subscriber identity information that allows their telecommunication carrier to recognise them within the system. This identifying information is encoded in the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module), and then used with the equipment of their choice. The SIM and the user’s device are usually bought separately, which can create complications as you need to register each one separately but then use them together.
Under the present system, if a user wants to change the telecommunication company that provides wireless communication to their device they have a series of steps to follow. These might include:
- Choosing to change to a new company after research and comparison
- Obtaining a SIM card from the new company (which is often at the buyer’s expense)
- Ensuring the user’s device is unlocked or compatible with the new carrier’s SIM (which can also require follow-up and have costs associated)
- Registering the SIM
- Transferring the old phone number to the new SIM.
At each stage there is the potential for complications and extra charges. It often proves so frustrating that people choose not to switch carriers without extreme motivation. Many people are paying more than they need to for a lower quality carrier, simply because they feel that it’s too much effort to make the change. Telecommunication companies who provide SIM cards are also subject to extra expenses, as they are required to produce, send and track each SIM card.
How will the eSIM Work?
The eSIM will function in the place of a physical SIM card. It comes with the supporting hardware pre-installed in the user’s device. eSIMs will make selecting a wireless communication provider easier, because each company will use the same eSIM technology. Users will be able to choose short term plans that are easily comparable, making it much easier to switch carriers and creating a more competitive market.
The user’s personal data stored on their SIM can be encrypted, and sent to their device in the encrypted form. The device would then be able to decrypt the information using the carrier key provided to the device. That personalised information could then be installed on the eSIM. The eSIM could take many forms; an embedded smart card, a removable smart card, or stored in device memory and accessed by a device processor.
Once the device has the information from the common SIM stored in the eSIM, it will be able to access the carrier via the eSIM. If the user wished to repeat the process with another carrier, the information can be transmitted to their device as well. The user could then choose to remove the original information and completely switch to the new carrier, or leave both sets of information and be able to access multiple carriers from the same device.
The Advantages of eSIM technology.
- The eSIM will be pre-installed on some devices.
Releases from Apple state that “The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models”. That means there’s no need to buy, obtain and register a separate SIM for every device.
- eSIMs make it easy to choose a plan.
Apple stated, “The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers… right on your iPad. So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments.”
- eSIMs make travelling easier.
Instead of expensive data roaming charges or the hassle of finding and registering a foreign SIM, an Apple eSIM will allow you to choose a plan in whichever country you visit.
- Use your secondary and primary devices interchangeably.
Secondary devices (such as the Apple smartwatch) that have a pre-installed eSIM will be able to function as if it was a primary device. That means these secondary devices will no longer necessarily be tied to an iPhone.
- Choose your plan.
Instead of a new SIM and therefore a new plan (and phone number) for each device, multi-SIM capability will mean that you can choose one plan, and access it on all your devices.
The Future of eSIMs
Eventually, it will mean that telecommunications companies will have to negotiate with major phone manufacturers like Apple to be allowed to provide their service through the preinstalled eSIMs. At the moment, users can only access a small number of carriers that have been preapproved to provide their service through Apple’s eSIM enabled devices. With a huge market of devoted Apple fans available to telecommunications companies, the production of the Apple eSIM means the future is likely to feature much more competitive plans that are easier to compare and change.