Mobile World Congress shows how imminent the eSIM is

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) event is hosted by the GSMA – the international body which decides the standards that all our phones and phone company networks run on. It’s the world’s biggest conference and includes a bewildering array of exhibitions which span the entire mobile industry. High-level executives from the big phone companies we all know use the forum to represent innovations and new products from mobile operators, technology providers, device manufacturers and content vendors from around the globe. It is no exaggeration to say that everything to do with your phone, your phone bill and any technology in telco was demonstrated at one of these events at some time.

Which is why this year was so significant. One of the major contributions to the 2016 event was information about a new type of SIM card solution which could dramatically affect how all of us buy and use our phones.

The 2016 Mobile World Congress event

An Atlanta-based telecommunications startup company, Simless, for example, comprised of former Deutsche Telekom and AT&T employees, has developed an exciting new, patent pending e-SIM technology. The company has made the e-SIM technology available for smartphones, handheld devices and wearable smart watches, all while working with the manufacturers who produce these consumer products.

Their solution is different to many which preceeded it. It avoids many of the potential hazards associated with the implementation of the new eSIM standard that we have been watching so closely on WhatPhone. Simless use a variant of a ‘soft sim‘ – which is very similar to but does not meet the strict definition of an eSIM. (Soft SIMs are slightly different to eSIM solutions in that they do not require any new hardware to be fitted to a phone. With Soft SIM alternatives, SIM and provisioning details are stored within the existing phone software. That means :

  • It’s cheaper :
    In comparison to a hardware e-SIM option, the Simless option is a fraction of the cost. It”s just software and they’ve written it already !
  • It’s easy to implement :
    Simless’ tech only requires a small amount of effort, when it comes to the integration into smart devices. Because it’s software based, no new hardware sourcing, hardware design or SIM testing is required.
  • Can be used in existing phones :
    Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Simless’ solution can be implemented in to existing smartphones, like the one you already have. All that is required is a simple Operating System update. Simless have adapted in market standards and used existing S2oC technologies, which already exists on various SoC (System on Chip) platforms.

This conveniently solves a real world problem and it’s timely. Device manufacturers are currently figuring out how to add the new e-SIM functionality to their hardware, which traditionally uses the current physical SIM cards.

Who normally attends conferences like the recent eSIM summit?

The sorts of people who sign up to these types of meetings are the more senior personnel attached to businesses that have an interest in eSIM technology, including telcos, auto industries, insurance providers, IT businesses and the device industries.

E-SIM capable devices entering the market

The first ‘e-SIM capable’ devices begun hitting the market in some very quiet ways over 2014 / 15. Both of phone’s biggest manufacturers have been experimenting with the concept. The Samsung’s Gear S2, for example, was a wearable smart watch which the Korean company released. Apple, too, tried a ‘halfway house’ version of eSIM technology in one of their iPads called the Apple SIM.

One of the initial problems faced by the industry is the public take up of the virtual SIM, as a hardware e-SIM can cost anywhere of up to $5, a cost which will be passed to the device manufacturers and ultimately, to consumers in the price of phones. Industry estimates suggest this could be a restraining factor in uptake. On average, for example, someAndroid devices have profit margisn of around $5-$10. A new component like an eSIM and housing which adds even $5 has a material effect on the profitability of these phones. Any additional costs which cut into these profits will be a hard ask to swallow.

Simless’ solution, on the other hand,  avoid those costs. That makes soft SIM solutions more attractive to the device manufacturers. The advantage is compounded with the easy of rollout. Soft SIMs are  easier for them to integrate, in comparison to the more complicated hardware e-SIM.

It’s also safe. Simless use a security framework known as TEE or the Trusted Execution Environment. That means provisioning information set over the air is sent safely. Specific security configurations can be made, which will render the devices safe, secure and tamper proof. Simless has secured agreements with national network carriers in the US while they begin their testing phase of the soft SIM/e-SIM functionality. The pilot testing phase will enable the company to trial how the software performs in the real world. It will also give them feedback on soft/e-SIM standardisation and give them a chance to work with the GSMA to set the conditions of large-scale future roll-outs.

Simgo and Simless – two new industry players

For consumers, the differences Simless offer are small but important. Soft SIM solutions allowing them to use their smartphone as they normally would with a physical SIM card but do not require a trip to the shops to pick one up.

And these changes might not be far away. In a demonstration of how close we are to seeing some of this soft SIM technology hit market, Simless weren’t the only company announcing their e-SIM plans, at MWC. A rival company, ‘Simgo’, were also there with their solution. they claim to provide a leading cloud-based Virtual SIM platform, which is easily connected to by the various device manufacturers which plan to implement e-SIM functionality into their devices.

Simgo an Intel Partner Program company

Simgo is a member of the 2016 Intel® Ingenuity Partner Program. Importantly, it’s a company which was selected by Intel, due to their innovative and modern approach to solving traditional technological functionalities. Simgo was awarded the first place in the category of Mobile Enterprise Innovations at the MWC event.

They’re seen by many as a disruptor startup, with their progressive cloud-based e-SIM platform. They were also quick to announce that along with e-SIM cloud-based technology, they are also working on expanding into the IoT ( Internet Of Things) industry, with more exciting things to come. Like Simless, SIMgo’s cloud e-SIM functionality allow device manufacturers to implement remote provisioning, fully automated and dynamic, with instant connectivity to any mobile network available.

Providing consumers with more choice

“We’re glad the GSMA recognised the need for an e-SIM and implicitly validated Simgo’s work in space. Unfortunately, however, the specification does not go nearly far enough. The e-SIM does much for subscription management, but nothing for device manufacturers or subscribers, who need connectivity management. e-SIM simply gets rid of the need to swap out a physical card, but it doesn’t help any user, enterprise or otherwise, manage their connectivity based on real requirements like signal strength, or managing roaming, which is two major issues for connected cars for example.” – Eyal Shmueli, co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Simgo.

The decision by Simgo to make the e-SIM available for integration for free demonstrates the future direction in which this technology is headed within the device manufacturing industry.

Embedded SIM (eSIM) is a technology that has been on the wish list for equipment makers for some time. Particularly emphasised are its potential use for IoT and M2M products. The recent summit, which is just the start of other meetings planned with one programmed in London later this year, was the chance for all industry experts concerned to bring together their ideas, expectations and use value of the proposed eSIM.

Who will gain from the eSIM?

Consumers will enjoy more personalised services and be able to manage multiple International Mobile Subscriber Identities (IMSIs) on a single device, which will include an IoT device connectivity. Additionally, consumers will be able to select the most suitable subscription based on individual requirements without having to go through a new admin procedure when connecting to a different service.

Apart from the smart phone/iPhone users, others to benefit are those who use:

  • Connected cars
  • Enterprise vertical IoT
  • M2M
  • Non-phone gadgets
  • A wearables or tablets
  • Mobile IoT

GSMA and eSIM technology

This technology will reduce the cost of traditional SIM cards while maintaining current security protocols. It will also not affect present network infrastructure at all. It will make it easier for product manufacturers as they will no longer have to produce devices locked to specific network providers.

This remote SIM is vital to the future growth cycle of the machine to machine (M2M) market. This is technology that does not need assistance from a person to enable network devices in order to exchange info and take part in actions. For example, an empty vending machine like a soft drinks machine can send a message to the distributor when an item sold from the machine has almost run out.

M2M communication is also used in remote control technology, robotics, telemedicine, traffic control, management of supply chains and logistic services. Another concept associated with M2M is IoT or the Internet of Things.

What’s needed for M2M?

  • Sensors
  • RFID
  • Wi-Fi or cell link
  • auto computing software

It’s basically all about products which have been programmed to make decisions on their own and transmitting the results over a network via a device. Products that have been built with M2M capabilities are usually called “smart.”

Earlier this year, GSMA produced and released a specification allowing consumers to activate remotely the eSIM embedded in such devices as smart watches, fitness bands or tablets. This process may well lead to rapid industry acceptance and adoption of the eSIM technology very soon.

In Summary

Summits, meetings and conferences are all about new ideas and pushing them ahead passed any possible barriers. They seek to unlock and share knowledge, to enable transparency and to dispel myths about new knowledge. So the eSIM technology will soon be a reality and take us through a new round of shared technology. There is no indication yet if and when eSIM technology is likely to become widespread in Australia.

Many industry experts are predicting that 2016 will be the year in which e-SIM functionality will begin to break out in more upcoming next generation devices as they are released, forcing national carriers into action. Cloud-based e-SIM solutions are a simple way in which smartphone and tablet devices can be seamlessly connected to existing software, all while ultimately providing consumers with more choice.

There is still a way to go for the technology. No single provider or solution is yet the clear winner – which is why these companies are presenting their ideas as innovation solutions at MWC. But we’re not far away. And providers like Simgo and Simless are solving the problems, for industry members as well as consumers, which need to be solved before the technology is rolled out and the next generation of SIM solutions becomes commonplace for us all.

The horse’s mouth for eSIM solutions is the GSMA. They explain the concept here : https://www.gsma.com/iot/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Embedded-SIM-Toolkit-Oct-14-updated1.pdf

We have covered the difference between SoftSIM and eSIM solutions ourselves : https://whatphone.com.au/sim-only-byo-plans/the-esim-and-what-it-means-to-you/embedded-esims-vs-soft-sims-whats-the-difference/

SIMgo’s product offering is shown here : http://www.simgomobile.com/

And SIMless represent their alternative, here : https://www.simless.com/

 

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.