There has been talk about the eSIMs (and the equivalent names – virtual / soft / re-programmable SIM ) in recent months. Perhaps it’s no surprise that at this year’s Mobile World Congress, the technology has been pushed and showcased more than ever before.
This is especially true of the devices scheduled for release in late 2017, and throughout 2018. A new device called the Nuu Mobile X5, sums up the current state of plan. The X5 hails from its base in the United States and is the next generation of unlocked phone since the Nuu Mobile X4 that was released 12 months ago. The company which makes the device, Nuu Mobile, is not new to mobile phone making, but may not be as familiar to people as some other manufacturers. The Android device offers something different from anything we’ve seen so far (as well as a price tag set at less than $300.) This phone has the much talked about eSIM installed, a virtual SIM chip that works through the service called “Konnect i1 hybrid”. Incredibly, in some senses, the X5 goes beyond what any other phone has done previously. Together, the hardware and software enables the phone to connect to different local phone network providers when travelling overseas. It’s a phone which self optimises your phone plan.
No need to buy a new SIM when travelling overseas
Most travellers don’t like using their home provider for calls or data on global roaming while overseas because of the cost of the service. Nuu Mobile has removed that issue. Its included software allows you to connect to the local phone company of your choice, once you have seen what competing telcos are offering in that region. When you plane dips down into one of the 100+ countries included, the Konnect app will activate low priced local data using what is called a multi- network identity eSIM, a SIM box, as well as multi-IMSI technology. This is just one example of the sort of phone plan innovation the eSIM seems set to deliver.
Nuu Mobile has been marketing the NUU Mobile X4 for a while now through Amazon, but the X5 is the first phone from Nuu (in fact from anyone that we’ve seen( offering the eSIM feature. The phone is not set to be released until later in the year and its first country for purchase seems likely to be the UK. To many, it’s probably a bit of a surprise that lesser known Nuu Mobile is taking the first step in to the world of the eSIM, technology is the eSIM, which will supersede the current SIM that you use in your phone now. The eSIM, as a virtual SIM card, will mean you, the user, will not need to change the SIM card every time you change your network operator.
It seems that this device is likely the first of many. The eSIM is likely to become a reality, as it has already been given the go ahead by the GSMA. This is the most important global association for mobile devices, operators and makers. What Nuu have done is to partner with phone companies in many different geographies to get the roaming to work. That’s helped them overcome one of the main drags on the rollout of the eSIM – the fact that telcos have stalled it coming to market for along time.
eSIM technology is good news for manufacturers
With smartphones getting thinner and thinner with each new model manufactured devices will be able to better utilise the space for which traditionally needs to be reserved for the physical SIM card slot. The introduction of the eSIM will eventually mean that Australian consumers will be able to move from one service provider to the next in real time, without the need to wait for your number to be ported from one service company to your new one.
How the eSIM will change the market for phones
- Dual SIM : Dual SIM is an important phone feature in many (often poorer) parts of the world. We will all have Dual SIM capability when the eSIM is introduced.
- Smaller, lighter : Size is always at a premium in smartphones. eSIMs will help to save space in new phone hardware.
- Waterproof : A key industry trend is the waterproofing option many manufacturers now provide. eSIMs don’t require a gap in the chassis of a phone which will make it easier to maintain waterproof exteriour integrity.
- Cheaper : The components required to make a phone with an eSIM are cheaper than those required to support a standard SIM.
- More reliable : eSIMs do not allow dust in to the phone chassis. This is likely to make devices even more reliable.
Advantages of Unlocked Phones Versus eSIMs
The biggest development for phone users was when phone manufacturers started to sell unlocked phones and the willingness of telcos to supply a SIM card without the need to buy one of their phones. As with all product manufacturers and service providers, each wants to increase the bottom line as much as possible, keeping customers minimally satisfied so they will continue with their purchases.
The main advantage of an e-SIM is that customers will be able to quickly change their telco at any time without a new physical card from a company. At some point, the new eSIM will be compatible with all telecom operators.
This could mean substantial savings for the avid traveller or business persons as well as local users. When arriving in a new country the person will be able to go online and choose whatever MVNO fits their requirements. No need to buy a new SIM or use global roaming.
Problems the eSIM creates for phones
It might not necessarily be good news for all end users, depending on exactly how free the eSIM will turn out to be.This will really depend on precisely what the GSMA requirements and rules are for global telecom operators.
- Wipe before handover : With the current unlocked phone arrangement, when a phone ceases to work the user can take out the SIM card and put it into a new phone. This can’t happen with an eSIM enabled phone. Users will have to remember to wipe their phone’s SIM before passing the device along. That’s a big change and it’ll take awhile for people to get used to it.
- Reassurance needed over security : Security is another issue, as some critics believe that it will be easier for hackers to get into the cloud storage apparatus that will be the mainstay of the eSIM technology. There have been far too many cases of data theft so far, let alone the possibilities of new avenues occurring with the eSIM.
- Education : The cost of the rollout of the eSIM will rest heavily on the purchaser who will like it or not need to purchase an eSIM phone.
Summing up the eSIM and phones
A SIM card has become a familiar way of adding a phone plan to a physical phone. SIMs have grown smaller over the years and many phones have slots for 2 SIMs, meaning you can belong to more than one provider, switching from one to another as required.
There is no indications yet when or if he Nuu Mobile device will reach Australian shores. Whether or not it does, it’s an indicator of the sort of phone hardware we will see in the future. The telco standards which need to be in place to facilitate eSIM enabled phones have been around for a couple of years now. Until this point, the biggest thing preventing phones having eSIMs inserted at the point of manufacture has been the lack of availability of phone plans which will work on them. With Apple’s new Watch release (which is also eSIM enabled) that is already changing. Soon, devices like the X5 and others (laptops, internet of things related products, wearables and so on) will become commonplace.
The X5’s software tie in is just one example of the sort of phone plan innovation we are likely to see, too. Although under reported in the industry, the X5 is a significant development. It’s the Sputnik of phones.
Phone Arena have intelligent analysis of the eSIM in phones : https://www.phonearena.com/news/eSIM-likely-to-find-its-way-into-smartphones-by-2018-IHS-believes_id94096
Many have expected the eSIM to be put in to phones for some time. Until now, we have been disappointed : http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinion/what-is-an-e-sim-2926904
Specifications for the X5 can be found here : https://us.nuumobile.com/product/x5-4g-lte-android-smartphone/