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  • Thierry Spanjaard

eSIM adoption makes a step forward with the new iPhone

While the world was eagerly waiting for Apple’s decision about SIM slots in the new iPhone 14, many analysts are now disappointed to realize that the technology giant has made different choices according to different world regions. Most iPhone 14 series handsets still have room for a traditional SIM along with an eSIM. Exceptions are present in the two major Apple markets, the US and China. In the US, handsets come with only an eSIM while in China, Hong Kong and Macao, in compliance with government-set rules, iPhones 14 come with two traditional SIM slots.

In the US, some analysts consider Apple murdered the SIM card, ignoring this is just the latest evolution of a process started several years ago, that just reflects the global evolution of our world from the phone being an isolated piece of hardware to an always-connected always-on cloud-based device. Seemingly, some users are already regretting physical SIM cards and the flexibility they brought. SIM cards allowed users to transfer easily their rights from one phone to another or to lend them to friends or family members. Others insist on the fact that, when all is down, when the phone is broken, one can always take out a detachable SIM and put it into another handset while the equivalent manipulation with an eSIM requires an internet connection, the ability to access one’s mobile network operator (MNO), and in all cases more time and complexity.

eSIMs allow users to have multiple profiles activated with several MNOs, in order for them to take advantage of all offers and discounts in highly competitive markets. Depending on regulations about SIM registration, some users feel more anonymous with detachable SIMs they can buy anonymously over the counter than with eSIMs that require a closer relationship, involving more identification, between the subscriber and the MNO. Anonymity of SIM use serves many people with different needs: from people in need of anonymity living under dictatorships to mafia members using handsets as ”burner phones” to perform illegal activities anonymously.

Travelers also find it easy to add a local eSIM-based subscription to their home plan, in order to benefit from local rates while keeping their usual contact method. However, not all mobile network operators worldwide have yet developed an eSIM offer, making it an obstacle to international travels for users equipped with an eSIM-only handset.

Apple has repeatedly mentioned detachable SIMs were using valuable space in their handset design, so getting rid of them not only saves space but also removes a tray and a connector, thus simplifying mechanical assembly and making the product sturdier. From a more global standpoint, we can see these evolutions as being the latest step in the decades-long fight between handset vendors and mobile network operators. The GSMA, which essentially represents the operators, predicts that by 2025, 35% of all smartphone network connections will be made using eSIM technology. Evolving from a detachable SIM to an eSIM means that consumers see the hardware vendor as their main service contact while MNOs are taking a second place. Apple has already announced new services going into this direction: “eSIM Quick Transfer” wirelessly converts a physical SIM on one phone to an eSIM on another, or moves an existing eSIM between phones, and “eSIM Carrier Activation” turns on a new line of service as part of the iPhone’s initial setup process.

After Apple has paved the way for an eSIM-only handset, there is little doubt other handset vendors will feel encouraged to follow suit. We should get ready to see more eSIM-only handsets in the months and years to come, and to see the production volumes of detachable SIMs decrease.

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