When the concept of eSIM (Embedded SIM) got a guideline revision by GSM Alliance (GSMA) in 2015, it appealed to the consumers as a perfect tool for gaining more power over their decisions to choose carriers. The concept also appealed to manufacturers like Apple and Samsung, who implemented the technology in their niche products, such as the US version of the Apple iPad and the global edition of the Samsung Gear S2 Classic 3G and Gear S3. However, despite being a consumer and manufacturer friendly technology, it appears to have not gained any traction with the technology industry, even in 2017.
The eSIM sounds complex but is fairly easy to understand. Your phone has a small plastic card inside, known popularly as the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card which is used to identify your phone amongst the billions of phone users through a unique mobile number assigned to it. However, a SIM card is tied to a particular carrier and it requires you to change SIM cards if you prefer to migrate to some other network.
This is where eSIM comes in, with its easy-to-switch carrier system. The eSIM is part of the device’s hardware and lets the user switch networks through profile system. Theoretically, you can use two networks on one SIM card by simply switching profiles on the device. And, it means that phones can do away with SIM card ports.
However, the market hasn’t really caught on with this concept. Apart from computer peripheral manufacturers, the smartphone world hasn’t seen any development on this front. We are moving towards smartphones with bezel-less displays, dual cameras, embedded AI assistants and yet the old for network connection technology from the last decade still exists. We try to decode certain possible reasons for this.
The first major reason for this could be the implementation cost. We have only seen niche eSIM enabled devices from established manufacturers. Devices like iPads and smartwatches are perfect test beds for gauging the success of the technology. However, mainstream products from the same manufacturers, like iPhones and Galaxy smartphones, still haven’t got it, probably hinting at a raised price tag.
The second possible reason could be resistance from network operators/carriers. They want to retain customers on their network and prevent migration by offering sweet offers to cover up unsatisfactory services. With an eSIM, all it would take for a user to switch networks is simply applying for the other network. In short, changing networks would be like switching Wi-Fi networks with passwords.
It is also possible that the technology is at a nascent stage and isn't good enough for commercial use.
Whatever may be the reason, the eSIM deserves to be in a market like India where IT is booming at an unprecedented rate. The eSIM will also let OEMs go for slimmer devices with more space for innovative features. Carriers like Reliance Jio have shown that new technology always finds wider acceptance if it’s pro-consumer. Therefore, if OEMs and carriers come together in the Indian smartphone arena to adapt this technology to the way 4G LTE network was adapted, it will aid for better choices for consumers.