The idea in a nutshell: Australia is often not the first country that technology is sent to. And yet, I believe the new eSIM is likely to be rolled out here at the same time as in Europe. I also believe that it will be part of the iPhone 7, launched in Setpember 2015. I present my evidence here.
What is an eSIM?
It seems to be the case with a lot of new technologies that the terms used to describe it are often vague and poorly understood. The eSIM is a reasonably new and quite advanced piece of equipment. I don’t think that I should suggest I am the most informed person on the technology involved.
To start at the beginning, Provisioning a SIM with a phone company is the same as provisioning a boat before a long journey. It puts in place everything you need to get going. Provisioning is the technical process of attaching your SIM securely to the phone company network and associating the SIM, device, you and your billing account so they can charge you for usage.
The goal of the eSIM / Soft SIM is is remote SIM provisioning. i.e. giving you what you need to connect to the phone company network without installing it on a physical SIM you have to pick up form a shop.
In really simple terms that most users will understand, eSIMs / soft SIMs mean this : Instead of going to the shops to get yourself a new SIM, you will pick a phone company and connect to a plan through your phone’s settings.
Why do I think the eSIM will be part of the iPhone 7 ?
Well i am the only person I know who thinks it’ll be in the iphone 7. Everyone else says that’ll happen later. That means I am probably wrong. Here’s the ‘evidence’ I have, anyway.
The world’s biggest SIM manufacturer has announced it’s eSIM ready :
G&D is the world’s biggest SIM hardware manufacturer. They used to make the majority of the SIMs which went in to phones all over the world. They are to SIMs what Portugal is to corks in wine bottles. They (G&D, not Portugal) announced in June 2016 that they had developed the fourth generation of an eSim provisioning facility in Europe.
The G&D deal was signed with multiple carriers at once all across Europe. Here’s what they said about it at the time.
< The new G&D system is> “ready to cope with peak requirements, for example around launches of a new device, when millions of people switch on”
There are only two new device releases which would require that sort of scale. There are only two new device releases each year which would necessitate the ability to connect millions of phones in parallel to phone company networks. First is the new iPhone which happens just after mid September most years. Second is the new Samsung Galaxy which happens in March. This announcement was made in June. That’s 3 months before the iPhone 7.
Apples USA based iPhone leasing programme was released last year
Apple’s move to launch a new device leasing programme is a critical component of the evidence. It indicates a desire to separate hardware sale and telco agreement. It might sound like a small move but it’s not. A new phone with a SIM under contract is the way the world has bought phones for a generation. Apple’s move is a step towards a more flexible customer experience – in which phones are leased from one party and SIMs taken from another. Good customer experiences are something generally that apple like to own end to end.
iPhone 7 rumours indicate that the phone is smaller than ever
Admittedly, unofficial designs based on leaks for an iPhone 7, show a product which is so thin that a standard set of earphones won’t fit in it. I believe they (Apple) need to save space in the hardware of the new device and want to remove as much ‘unnecessary hardware’ as possible. That includes the SIM and housing.
It may not seem like the SIM housing takes up too much space within a phone. But remember, Apple moved from a MicroSIM to a Nano SIM to save millimetres of plastic! Removing the housing too would be a ‘big’ (ironically the opposite) deal.
Below : Unofficial concept designs suggest that the new iPhone will be thinner. How could they save the space ? Source : Cult of Mac. Link provided in preceding text.
Apple have trialled the eSIM technology IRL already
The eSIM might be new technology to most of us. However, in the background, it has gone through a series of testing phases. The latest of these involved soft launches of eSims in late 2015 in the USA and UK on iPad tablets and Samsung Galaxy watches. These were in life, in anger, final phase deals with real life, honest to God, definitely would complain if it was hard, customers.
Vodafone are the key partner and that makes sense
Vodafone was a partner of apples for the eSim launch in the UK and Europe. In fact, they were a key partner of G&D’s eSIM technology rollout.
If apple was to partner with anyone globally to force the rest of the operators to move in each territory, it would be them. This (divide to conquer approach) is just what apple has done with ANZ bank on Apple Pay : Apple approached the last in market player and secured a deal to help them catch up. Any rational analysis (see highlighted section) would suggest this was undertaken to exert influence on the other 3 banks to follow suit. The analogous telco move would be to partner with the third in market player, Vodafone.
In short, everything is on place….
As I said many times, having a physical SIM which is used to connect a service to a network is as strange as requiring a physical certificate in order to change TV channels. I think if I asked the phone companies why they have them they would laugh and say ‘exactly’.
SIMs seem to have been produced – created – simply to add what we now call ‘friction in the customer journey.’ They exist solely to reduce movement between phone companies. They deliberately create a level of complexity and effort which cannot be solved from the sofa. They require that someone leaves the house to change their Service Provider.
The machinations of telco mean that it was only when a ) Apple exerted significant influence on the GSMA (the global body which decides standards of interoperability between phone companies) and the telcos saw a substantial gain from removing physical SIMs through new Internet Of Things revenue streams, that things changed. All of these factors are now in place. The phone companies are ready to go. Apple is ready to go. The eSIM provisioning system is ready to go. And in my shed, I have connected with balls of strings articles from many of the internet’s least reliable portals.
There will be winners and losers as a result of these changes, of course. Whether it happens this year or next, once physical SIMs are removed, MVNOs, who resell the phone company networks at more affordable prices are likely to do much, much better than they do not. Where now they suffer a lack of awareness, they will be extremely visible to customers through settings at exactly the point they are going to switch.