The eSIM and EUICC

The EUICC is the Embedded version of the, Universal Integrated Circuit Card – the hardware SIM chip we’ve used in phones for a while. The addition of the ‘E’ simply means this new type of SIM card is now embedded in the phone instead of inserted and changed by the user.

In simple terms, the EUICC is the replacement for (positioned as an evolution of) the SIM cards we’ve had in our phones since day dot.

The EUICC SIM will be built into phones and other devices (potentially Apple phones) starting soon. The point of having this new this sort of chip is that you do not have to open your phone and physically change the SIM hardware when you want to change providers and plans.

The components of the new EUICC SIM and the specifications are consistent with what is already in phones around the world and there is a good reason for that. There are a lot of processes and technology built around what we have now, in phone companies around the world.

The standards have been signed off on now by the GSMA

At this stage, the world is split into two camps. Those who believe the new iPhone or Apple Watch (3) will have an eSIM  or ‘Apple SIM’ solution in it. And those who don’t.

Apple Insider, for example (a website which should know and which is usually reliable for getting the inside track on developments within Apple’s Cupertino headquarters), suggests the inclusion of the eSIM in the Apple Watch is ‘almost certain’.

Some of the consternation from people who believe the new Apple phone won’t have an eSIM in it comes from questions which remain over the standards for the eSIM and whether they have been finalized. Luckily, the GSMA is quite clear on the subject. They are agreed. The specification for the new SIM type is standard, international and has a consistent user experience across devices. We’re actually on the second version of the GSMA standard now, which supports multiple Operator profiles on the eSIM.

“The GSMA has now released the second version of its global specification that enables Remote SIM Provisioning in any consumer device. The second version of the specification now enables a consumer device to store more than one operator profile concurrently, although only one operator can be in use at a time.”

Source: https://www.gsma.com/rsp/

Comparing eSIMs with soft or Virtual SIMs

Even the electrical connectors between the embedded SIM and the rest of the phone are the same as those in current phone hardware. As far as the phone is concerned, this new EUICC / eSIM is just a SIM in its SIM housing.

To a degree, it’s this set up which separates the eSIM from alternatives which are often used interchangeably – like Soft SIM or Virtual SIM.

Soft or Virtual SIMs perform the same task as any other type of SIM – they just reside on the device entirely as software, rather than requiring a physical component to be pre-installed on the device.

How will the EUICC / eSIM work in Apple phones?

There are 2 different processes to set up the current proposed user path. One of them is bad ( see Samsung’s approach, below.)

As usual, Apple have the better customer experience (here for their eSIM set up and maintenance) so let’s start with that.

 

Samsung’s alternative EUICC Set Up process uses QR codes

Those who work in the digital industry might well be familiar with flow charts of this nature (see image below). The advice is generally not to use QR codes in any way for anything, especially marketing.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy Gear 3 did use a QR code in Samsung’s eSIM set up process. That gives us a strong hint as to what Samsung’s eSIM activation process will be when they bring their phone with an EUICC in it.

Note: A special Samsung App is required to scan the code.

Source : http://sellsellblog.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/should-i-use-qr-code-helpful-flow-chart.html

The complexity that requires this sort of QR code workaround, is SIM security of course. The QR code is required because it contains all the information and password information to safely provision the phone.

If you accidentally or deliberately wipe your device, using Samsung’s set up method, you’re going to lose the provisioning profile. You will need to order a new profile and, as things stand, you may be charged for it. That will not be popular with consumers.

How will the EUICC / eSIM help us?

In this article, I have taken a deliberately different view to the benefits we have laid out in previous eSIM articles  which were more consumer focused. Here we are talking in a more technical way about the eSIM and what it means so it’s appropriate to throw a broader net than we have previously and consider more industrial applications.

Here’s what the EUICC will enable :

  • Global machine to machine roll out:
    Once you turn a machine on, which has an EUICC card in it, (so long as it is programmed to do this) it connects to the network and provisions itself. That means you don’t have to send an engineer to the machine to insert a SIM for you. It also means if you want to change phone company providers for the service that eSIM gets, you don’t have to send the same engineer out to change the SIMs over. This is an enormous efficiency set to drive the uptake of Internet Of Thing components connected to the internet in places away from Wifi.
  • Don’t have to worry about difficult environments for the machine:
    Particularly machines in industrial settings have to be concerned with dust and other materials which might interfere with the performance of the electronics which keep it working. The EUICC standard means the hardware on the site will no longer need a tray in to which a physical Sim can be inserted. That’s one less component open to interference, one less thing to go wrong and one less point of ingress for damaging particles. This is likely to be especially useful in a number of contexts for waterproofing IoT device.
  • EUICC cards only need cellular tech:
    Cellular technology – that used by wireless operators (phone companies) is available in a broader array of places than WiFi. That machines can now connect and provision themselves using only cellular technology means they only have to be installed within 10 miles of a cell tower. Which is pretty much anywhere there are people in Australia. That’s much more convenient than the 50 meters broadcast signal generated by a WiFi network you’ve installed.
  • Cheaper:
    the EUICC standard means there is no initial or replacement SIM cost as well as far reduced rollout and maintenance cost. For ongoing use, the EUICC card will lower bills by changing (or threatening or bench marking ) users’ plans against competitors over time.
  • More secure:
    Because the EUICC standard uses only cellular data, it means machines and devices connected to it will be much more securely supported. It is a great deal harder to hack wireless telco networks than a wifi network.
  • Shared data plans:
    Some telcos already offer simplified versions of the facility to have a single family or work account, under which are ‘hung’ a number of different SIMs, often sharing the same data bundle allocation. This can lower bills further by sharing data allocations more efficiently.
  • SIM cards can’t be stolen:
    It will be easier to avoid fraud in phones since SIMs can now no longer be removed, stolen and used for nefarious purposes.

In summary – no wonder these new standards have taken so long to implement

Don’t underestimate the impact on the telcos of the changes required to adopt the agreed EUICC / eSIM standard and to implement it into their working processes, procedures, and technology. Phone companies have been built around the SIM as the connection between the two of you. Everything they do starts with the Sim in your phone.

We might be on the second set of standards but this is still very new technology, as we can see from the vastly different setup processes offered by both Apple and Samsung.

Perhaps what explains the complexity and time involved in getting a new product (like the eSIM which has so far taken at least 5 years) to market is that the phone companies are going to have to manage both the physical and eSIM processes in parallel. Each will be in the market for some time yet with the EUICC card slowly replacing the physical SIM.

The change to EUICC standards is going to require some re-education for us, too. Selling a phone containing an EUICC card is now going to have to be considered differently. It’s natural for us to remove the SIM before we hand a phone which was previously ours on to the person who bought it from us. We will need to wipe the embedded SIM completely before we sell our phones if we want to avoid paying the bill of the recipient. The same will be true for lost phones. All those Internet Of Things benefits we mentioned above will have an impact on consumers, too.

It seems like Apple are likely to be first to market with a mainstream consumer version of the eSIM. It might be in the third generation Apple Watch, or the new iPhone, or both. That’s probably good news. It will give Samsung a chance to improve the customer experience of sign up. Adding a QR code to activate an eSIM / EUICC card is clunky and bad.

In time, our view is that the industry will wrap software and solutions around the eSIM to vastly improve the way consumers manage their own experience of interacting with their telco, plan and an ever growing range of eSIM enabled devices. These teething concerns and internal processes are just the beginning.

Sources :

Some basics on the EUICC: https://www.emnify.com/2016/01/29/euicc-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/

As always, the clearest information on the subject comes from the GSMA: https://www.gsma.com/rsp/

Some technical detail on the EUICC: https://www.comprion.com/testability/news-details/news/what-is-an-euicc-and-what-it-is-not/

Apple Insider seem sure about how the eSIM will roll out : http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/03/28/no-an-lte-equipped-apple-watch-will-not-come-with-a-physical-sim-card

 

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.