How Mobile Operators Can Enhance SIM Card Management and Achieve Effective Cost Control

How Mobile Operators Can Enhance SIM Card Management and Achieve Effective Cost Control

Bill Chard

Bill Chard

by Bill Chard, senior director, product management and development, Evolving Systems

Today’s wireless operators have to manage ever-growing numbers of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards. Factors driving this volume increase include organic market development, the need to sustain a churning subscriber base, the proliferation of SIM-only deals and the fact that SIM cards are embedded in a growing range of devices.

Unfortunately, with the current pre-provisioning model, every one of these cards requires space on the Home Location Register (HLR) and other key network elements including prepaid intelligent network (IN) nodes and messaging systems. Managing these ever-increasing SIM card numbers not only reduces available capacity – making it difficult to run effective marketing campaigns, for example – it is also hugely expensive.

The operator will typically be forced to make a large upfront investment, not only in the cards themselves but in the network space they occupy. To add to the problem, much of this investment ends up wasted because a significant proportion of SIM cards shipped are never used.


Many become lost, damaged or obsolete in the supply chain, while others remain on subscribers’ shelves or at the back of drawers. As a result, it is common for the effective utilisation of network elements to be less than 50 per cent. 

Pre-provisioning can also lead to an uneven distribution of SIM cards across vital elements like the HLR. Uniform loading of these elements relies on accurate forecasting significantly in advance of sales, and any variation from forecasts can result in a sub-optimal distribution that takes time to correct and may involve expensive (and risky) re-homing of subscribers between HLRs.

The pre-provisioning model does have one key advantage, however: namely, that the SIM works immediately it is in the hands of the end user. This presents operators with an urgent challenge: how do they find a cost-effective alternative to pre-provisioning that preserves this important benefit?

Fortunately a new approach to activating mobile phones has emerged which achieves these dual objectives by enabling new SIM cards to interact with the provisioning process via the mobile network despite not having previously been provisioned. This means that the allocation of network resources can be deferred until the point of first use. 

There is no need, for example, to buy HLR capacity to support SIM cards that are inactive in the supply chain and uniform loading of HLRs can be ensured by appropriate selection when the SIM is first used, rather than weeks in advance.

In commercial terms, the key benefit is that this new approach allows operators to eliminate many of the upfront costs they would typically incur if using the pre-provisioning model. In particular, it helps them avoid the need to buy and commission more network platforms than are actually required, merely in order to accommodate SIM cards that may never be used nor generate any revenue.

As operators look to drive efficiencies in an increasingly competitive marketplace, activating SIM cards at the point of first use offers a compelling route to competitive advantage.

For more information about Evolving Systems and its Dynamic SIM Allocation (DSA) solution visit

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