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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Apple weighs in on the eSIM transition path

Apple just announced its new range of smartphones, the iPhone Xs and Xs Max. While many analysts focus on communications, screen, camera characteristics or the disappearing of the home button, our industry focus is on the SIM card: Apple is now putting all its weight on the SIM card evolution path.

As we anticipated, the evolution from the removable SIM to the eSIM needs an intermediate step with a dual SIM handset having an eSIM along with a drawer for a traditional removeable SIM: this is exactly what Apple is announcing now.

eSIMs bring end-users the ability to quickly and simply churn from an MNO to another one. For this reason, operators have been trying to resist and even to block this evolution for years. However, at the same time, the evolution to the eSIM requires their support as they own the initial connection with the end user and as they are the organizations proposing eSIM-based subscriptions.

Apple publishes a very short list of 14 MNOs supporting its eSIMs out of hundreds of operators worldwide, involuntarily demonstrating the resistance of operators afraid to be sidelined by the electronics giant. When they will no longer appear on the SIM card or on its packaging, operators fear being reduced to a simple data pipe.

However, in order to keep some time to finalize contracts with more MNOs, Apple announced the eSIM functionality will not be available on the first iPhones Xs and Xs Max form the launch date but will be activated later as an iOS 12 software update.

Chinese operators have even better demonstrated their strength by obtaining that their government bans eSIMs altogether. One can bet this ban will last until they come up with a specifically Chinese solution…

Apple is coming up with an easy to use user interface as to set up a new subscription on an eSIM, the MNOs will offer a scannable QR code that can be read by the iPhone's camera, which then configures the eSIM with the required settings.

Both Gemalto and G+D recently published blog posts reaffirming their total support to the eSIM technology. Gemalto insists on the ease of use brought to subscribers, the simplification of MNOs’ logistics as well as on the gain of space for device designers. G+D announces they are already involved in more than 75 eSIM projects, representing 30 million eSIMs for cars, IoT devices, PCs, watches, tablets and smartphones. Also, Idemia acquired Otono Networks, a developer of eSIM management solution earlier this year.

One may remember Apple started to get involved with eSIMs when they participated in a demonstration with Gemalto at Cartes 2011. Since that time, Apple has taken prudent steps on the eSIM evolution path, by introducing it only in iPads since 2014, only on certain markets, etc. Also, Apple launched Apple Watch Series 3 cellular models with an integrated eSIM. Now, with the inclusion of eSIMs in its new iPhones, Apple shows it is going full steam to embrace eSIMs, and to change the paradigm of the mobile communication industry.

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