While e-SIM efforts continue to focus on M2M applications, work is well underway by the GSMA in developing a “consumer facing” specification to address usage in handsets, tablets, wearables and other IoT devices.
In the latest study by ABI Research, a leader in technology market research, statistics show that, if successful, e-SIM adoption in the consumer electronics market could quickly ramp up e-SIM connections from hundreds of millions to billions.
The current top SIM IC vendors – Samsung, Infineon Technologies and EM Microelectronic – remain neutral to e-SIM solutions with little impact expected. However, for the leading smart card vendors – Gemalto, Oberthur Technologies, Giesecke & Devrient and Morpho – consumer facing e-SIMs present a substantial opportunity, but also equal risk, dependent on form factor.
Phil Sealy, Senior Research Analyst at ABI Research, says:
“It’s important to note that embedded by name does not necessarily mean embedded by nature. In fact, the GSMA’s embedded SIM specification also outlines the requirements for a removable solution with the same OTA-provisional capabilities as a physically embedded MFF form factor, much like the Apple SIM.”
It will likely be the removable solution—which first takes hold within the handset market—that will enable MNOs to continue along a similar business model, retaining the ability to lock SIM cards to a network for the contract duration with the provisioning aspect coming into play upon contract expiry. A true embedded (i.e. non-removable SIM) may be adopted in the wearable device category in which space is finite and attach rates are likely to be low. Therefore, MNOs will be less resistant to the prospect of a flexible short term and highly competitive tariff market that it could enable.
Should the market move to one that primarily favors a removable form factor, then the leading smart card vendors will be presented with a double-edged revenue opportunity. Not only will they be able to continue supplying the vast quantities of SIM cards to which they have become accustomed to, but they will also be able to harness new revenues via OTA subscription management and provisioning.
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The e-SIM was designed specifically with M2M in mind to provide new levels of SIM robustness and to ensure continual operation across the life cycle of a machine, tailored for use in harsh/extreme environments and for applications where physically replacing a SIM unfeasible providing a manageable platform for remote locations. Today the focus has shifted onto consumer electronics. The GSMA has a consumer facing embedded SIM specification under development and rumors of the first e-SIM handset release continue to circulate, primarily focused on Apple’s next generation of devices.