What is the e-SIM? What does it offer that the traditional SIM card doesn’t? Does it change the customer-operator relationship? What does it tell us about the mobile uses of the future? Philippe Lucas, Strategy, Architecture and Standardization Director and Director of the e-SIM program within Orange’s Innovation, Marketing and Technology Division, answered our questions at the Mobile World Congress, where he also made a speech on this topic.
What is an e-SIM? How does it differ from the traditional SIM card?
Philippe Lucas: Simply put, the embedded SIM or e-SIM is an evolution of the SIM card. It’s actually a SIM card, welded directly to the terminal during its assembly, and so is now inseparable from the terminal that houses it, whether it is a phone, watch, tablet, computer or connected object. The data from this e-SIM can now be configured via a remote server.
What does this change for the user? And for the manufacturer?
Philippe Lucas: Previously, the SIM card was a visible component, which the customer obtained from the operator by going to the point of sale or receiving it by mail. This took some time, even when the customer had subscribed to an online offer in a matter of minutes. From now on, this “wait period” is no longer necessary because the manufacturer integrates it directly into the terminal. When initializing the new device, the user simply has to download the digital profile of their SIM card from their operator via Internet access, such as Wi-Fi.
For the manufacturer, the e-SIM allows several types of improvements. Since the card is welded to the terminal, the device is sealed more tightly against liquids and dust. Moreover, the e-SIM is much smaller than a traditional SIM, without this altering any of its features. So that means there’s more space available, whether for an extra battery or for new features. This is to the benefit of the user.
Several manufacturers already offer the e-SIM in their products, including Samsung, Huawei or Apple for some of their connected watch models.
What about the operators? Doesn’t the manufacturer intervene in a certain way, as an intermediary between the operator and the customer?
Philippe Lucas: This is indeed an argument we’ve heard. This persistent fear seems to be fading as the e-SIM gradually catches on in the industry. Operators, including Orange, will maintain this direct relationship with their clients, a relationship that will gradually become end to end digitalized with the arrival of the e-SIM.
If we take a step back, the manufacturers are there to improve their products or OS’s as much as possible in order to meet the needs of customers and to keep them loyal. They are looking for ways to make it easier to connect to their terminals, which will allow them to offer value-added services to their products. As far as connection to mobile networks is concerned, operators remain the key players for the moment. I don’t believe there will be any sudden changes in this approach. We must nonetheless remain vigilant. Orange is one of the most active operators in this regard.
Operators set themselves apart in terms of their specific expertise, the quality of their network, their knowledge of their customers, the profusion of their offers and the particular experience they wish to bring them… I sincerely believe that we can and must turn these fears into opportunities.
Philippe Lucas: In addition to speeding up the activation of terminals without going to the point of sale, the e-SIM also has many uses in the rapidly growing connected objects sector. Looking ahead to the coming years, it is clear that smartphones will no longer be the only devices with a communications package. Connected watches come to mind, of course, but there are also personal surveillance cameras or other connected mobile or wireless devices, for example in the smart home or health care fields. We are talking here about general public uses, but we can also envisage uses at the corporate or community level, such as smart cities.
At the moment, introducing a SIM card into connected objects limits its development. It’s a complex journey for the customer, who is naturally hesitant to connect more and more objects with extractable physical SIM cards. With the e-SIM, your main subscription becomes a kind of “hub” to which you can add or remove connectivity according to your use of connected objects, all in a fully digitalized way. The offers from the operators evolve, in order to favor this multiplication of things attached to the same package. The operator will play an increasingly important role as a trusted partner in this evolution.
Rather than causing competition between operators and manufacturers, in fact, e-Sim will help to bring about a virtuous circle! Simplifying the itineraries of users means increasing the number of objects used. In other words, the e-SIM will accompany and accelerate the development of the Internet of Things.
Was this virtuous circle made possible by discussions between operators and manufacturers? Are the e-SIMs we find on the market today the result of a common standard?
Philippe Lucas: The e-SIMs you can have in watches today are the result of several years of discussions between operators and manufacturers. We all knew that a standardized, mass-market solution was needed for this innovation to benefit everyone.
This is the spirit of the GSM Association, which has enabled us to work together to achieve this standard. This work within the GSMA made it possible to align operators and manufacturers in order to develop a standardized solution and establish a relationship of trust. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was easy, but there was a genuine willingness on the part of all stakeholders to work together to develop this standard. It can be said, however, that the result is in line with everyone’s expectations and with the work done!