The future of eSIM

Comms Business speaks to channel companies about the rise of eSIM, the offerings available on the market and where the opportunities lie for resellers and MSPs.

Recently we’ve seen the emergence of various new eSIM solutions introduced by channel businesses — in June this year, software provider Mobilise announced it was teaming up with Oasis Smart SIM to launch its new eSIM as a service proposition, whilst earlier on in December 2020 eSIM pioneer Jola launched a new multi-network eSIM built specifically for the Channel.

Hailed as a more flexible, agile alternative to the traditional physical SIM card, an eSIM at its most simple description is a small chip directly embedded into a device, able to provide connectivity from any operator that offers eSIM services with the option of seamless interchangeability between different network providers.

A move toward interoperability

“eSIM is the biggest indicator yet of the most significant shift that there has been in the cellular marketplace, which is the loosening of the proprietary lock that MNOs have on their customers by actually enabling a dynamically reprogrammable SIM that will connect to their competitors,” said Nick Earle, CEO at IoT provider Eseye. “Cellular connectivity is the most proprietary part of the world’s IT landscape. And so eSIM is very significant, because it’s the first sign of a move toward interoperability.”

This interoperability is perhaps the key benefit for end users and channel partners, who can help to deliver what Jola CTO Adrian Sunderland described as a “truly unsteered multi-network roaming connection”.

“Network-agnostic SIMs offer an alternative to MNO contract lock-ins and save customers the pain and expense of replacing SIMs,” Sunderland commented. “[eSIMs] enable devices to connect to the best possible service in any location, and customers can also manually select networks. This is extremely useful when you have thousands of devices globally.”

The ability to pick the tariff required based on the amount of data needed and the countries the SIM will operate in presents an opportunity for reduced roaming costs for end users, he added, allowing for the fastest access to 5G, LTE-M and NB-IoT across multiple networks due to eSIMs’ “inherent ability to be reprogrammed to support new networks and new technologies”.

Jason Walkey, UK sales director at Wireless Logic agreed that the localisation capabilities of eSIM can bring a streamlined, simplified process to global deployment of devices, helping customers to overcome limitations around permanent in-country roaming.
“eSIMs can also be used as a future-proof insurance option for developers and manufacturers, allowing them to design and deploy devices across the world without being tied to a particular connectivity provider or cellular technology long term,” he said.

Defining key differentiators

Key to Wireless Logic’s eSIM offering is the experience to guide customers through the process, described by Walkey as inherently more complex than standard IoT connectivity.

“Wireless Logic Group’s scale and partnerships mean that we have access to a significant number of network operator profiles, offering customers choice and flexibility in the medium and long term,” he said.

Elsewhere, global MVNO Jola prides itself on its channel-first approach: Sunderland said that eSIM will be key to unlocking opportunities for channel partners, and that the company aims to help every partner find and win at least one large mobile data deal within their customer base.

“Mobile Manager is our online management portal for ordering and managing eSIM estates,” Sunderland explained. “This white-label portal communicates in real time with 4G and 5G networks and can be used by both resellers and their end users. Mobile Manager handles eSIM activations, ceases, suspensions, reports, alerts and bolt-ons.”

From a global perspective, Eseye believes one of its biggest differentiators is the ‘Star Alliance’ type model it follows, allowing for localised connection in nearly every country globally at a single price for the end user. Much like the Star Alliance model in travel, whereby a customer pays for one airline ticket and is able to fly on multiple connecting airlines under one payment, CEO Nick Earle said that Eseye has successfully implemented this same model in IoT.

“We can localise the connection in more countries than anybody else,” Earle said. “Our SIM is called AnyNet — any network — if a device has AnyNet, if I sell this to the US, as soon as we recognise it’s in the US we push a Verizon IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) into it, it’s now exactly like it had a proprietary Verizon IMSI in it from day one. If it goes North to Canada, it becomes a Telus IMSI, if it goes to Turkey it becomes a Vodafone Turkey IMSI… so we have this Star Alliance where we localise the connection through our software layer, and that is implemented into our eSIM.

“We’re buying at different prices and switching between them, but we have one price for the end user and therefore the channel partner has reassurance and surety of price and margin.”

At Mobilise, an area where CEO Hamish White believes the company is doing things differently with its eSIM as a service offering is the one-click activation feature within its platform. “The user can, just by clicking a button, install the eSIM profile into their device — whereas traditionally, with eSIM, you need to go through a QR process which is a bit clunky … it’s not super user-friendly, so what we’ve done with our solution is to really remove all that friction in that onboarding process,” he commented.

“The other thing to mention is the way we offer our eSIM platform: traditionally, the way that a telecoms company might procure the eSIM platform is they might speak to four or five different telecoms vendors that provide them different parts of the solution and have an individual contract with all of them … we bring all those components together into one solution and offer it more as a service.”

Network services provider Comms365 offers an eSIM profile that can be downloaded to devices that have an embedded SIM already included, including iPads. Its eSIM profiles offer both fixed or dynamic IP and include access to hundreds of operators globally, local internet breakout in the UK and USA, and a host of cyber tools such as deep packet inspection, application restrictions and DDoS, said managing director Mike van Bunnens.

Opportunities for the Channel

“Real eSIM brings opportunities and threats to resellers and MSPs,” said van Bunnens. “The opportunities include the ability to win business from already deployed services. But this is a long way off, as 99.9 per cent of deployed devices are not eSIM enabled. However, in 5 – 10 years’ time when eSIM is more mainstream, the opportunity will be bigger.

“The threat is that by then, there will be huge competition with end users having the ability to swap at will. By that time, providers will have to offer a lot of additional services over and above data.” Whilst eSIM is ‘something to keep tabs on’, he added, he believes we aren’t quite close to seeing it generate large revenues for the Channel yet.

One area where eSIM can bring opportunity for resellers is the ability to simplify logistics and delivery of hardware or SIMs to their customers, said Mobilise’s Hamish White. “With eSIM, with the way we manage it as well which is via a mobile application, it’s really simple for resellers to manage end customers and in bulk as well.

“The other thing we’ve seen in some conversations is resellers often have trouble migrating customers from one operator to another … the process for doing that in the past with physical SIM cards was really complicated.

“The whole faff around that basically disappears with eSIM because in an eSIM world what you can do is just have the customer download the application and with one click they can change the provider directly from their device, without any of the need for that physical element of shipping SIM cards. So we feel that’s going to remove a whole load of headaches for resellers, but then also it’s going to save a lot of costs as well.”

The ability to sell an opportunity for 100 per cent connectivity across devices is perhaps one of the biggest opportunities for channel partners, Eseye’s Nick Earle said, particularly in the IoT market where this is vital. The now infamous prediction of 50 billion IoT devices by 2020 was a far way off the reality, estimated to be closer to 9 billion — Earle explained that, alongside common issues on the hardware side, one of the biggest reasons for this gap was the assumption that SIMs would be interoperable between networks, which they simply aren’t currently. eSIM could go a long way toward providing a solution to this.

“There’s a much higher bar for IoT than mobile phones. It’s ok if you lose a mobile phone connection for five minutes, it’s not OK if you lose a heart monitor for five minutes,” he said.

“For partners, particularly systems integrators and value added services partners, we represent an opportunity to take a solution to a customer, wrap their value around the outside and have the customer be able to take it out globally to scale their business. And in order to do that you’ve got to be able to solve these problems in every country in the world.

“What the industry needs is interoperability and assurance that the device works, it just connects, so that’s what we do — our raison d’etre is to have ubiquitous agnostic connectivity, 100 per cent around the world, so that you can create a business outcome for IoT and that’s a fantastic opportunity for channel partners.”

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Melissa Bradshaw

Melissa joined the Comms Business editorial team in January 2021. Following her role as editorial assistant within the Mark Allen Group division MA Music, Leisure & Travel since 2019, Melissa moved over to MA Business in October 2020 and now works as a reporter for two of Mark Allen’s business titles, Comms Business and The Engineer. She is working alongside our editor Charlotte Hathway, writing features and news for the magazine. To get in touch about potential features, contact her at melissa.bradshaw@markallengroup.com.

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