How the eSIM market is pushing boundaries in 2021

Last updated: 03 March 2021

‘This article first appeared on Philippe Vallée’s LinkedIn’

2020 underlined just how vital connectivity is to our lives – and the start of 2021 is no different. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely reshaped how we work, shop and socialise – as well as redefining how businesses operate – prompting hundreds of millions of people and enterprises around the world to ‘go digital’ so they can carry on with their lives with some sort of normality. It’s remarkable to think that the ability to stay and keep connected with loved ones, colleagues and friends has only been made possible by components the fraction of the size of your fingernail.

eSIM, the SIM’s worthy heir bringing connectivity to your smartphone or smartwatch, continues to play a bigger role in our ever digital worlds. What’s more, its transformative effects stretch far beyond just mobile devices with 1.4 billion eSIMs to be delivered for IoT devices out of the more than 2.7 billion consumer eSIM-compliant devices that are predicted to be shipped by 2025.

What’s more, Gartner estimates in a new report entitled ‘Emerging Technology Horizon for Devices’ that eSIMs are among a number of emerging technologies and trends that will significantly impact the computing devices market over the next three year horizon. But what is propelling this and which areas are truly benefitting from the uptake of eSIM?

What is driving the growth in eSIM uptake?

It’s important to note that, while the increasing universe of IoT devices is certainly playing a key part in why eSIMs are growing in popularity, this doesn’t paint the whole picture.

Their growing use is testament to their eminent convenience and inherent security. For network operators, eSIMs allow them to support full digital journeys with their customers. This means the ability to sign up new customers without having to go into a branch and being able to sell family bundles where several eSIM-enabled devices in one

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home can be managed by a single contract. In 2020, Samsung tapped into this convenience with the widespread launch of its eSIM-equipped handset, the S20 – leveraging Thales’ own innovative Connected eSE solution – recently selected as the winner of the “ IoT Semiconductor Product of the Year” award by the 5th IoT Breakthrough Awards. Motorola also introduced the world’s first mass-market eSIM-only smartphone, Motorola Razr.

For consumers the advantages of eSIM are clear. The ability to instantaneously access the mobile connectivity service without having to wait for and physically change the SIM from the new carrier is a big benefit. This has some obvious alternative advantages in the current COVID-19 climate where any opportunity to reduce face-to-face interaction in stores is important. eSIM is also good for regular travellers, as they allow the end user to connect to local pre-paid numbers when travelling abroad – avoiding expensive roaming fees.

These benefits to MNOs and their customers are also behind the maturity of the eSIM market in these four emergent use cases.

The age of the wearable

Of course, on-the-move connectivity isn’t just the preserve of smartphones. In the last few years we’ve seen wearable smart devices – like smart watches, fitness trackers and health monitors – all rocket in popularity.

As wearables have become more sophisticated, the need for more advanced technology to enable them has also risen. OPPO’s new smartwatch was recently unveiled with in-built connectivity and the ability for users to activate a mobile subscription from their device. This is all enabled by the inclusion of an eSIM, provided by Thales, allowing users to make voice calls from the watch without needing to be tethered to a mobile phone.

Smart watches and fitness bands have been around for a few years now, but giving them self-contained connectivity is an important development that has been powered by miniature eSIMs.

Connectivity in transit

These tiny components are also providing convenience and security in the growing connected vehicles space. Indeed one of the first widespread uses of eSIMs was in the automotive sector when, the European Parliament required all new cars to be fitted with eCall technology from 2018 onwards, which would automatically call emergency services in the event of an accident. Since then, eSIM tech in vehicles has continued to develop at a pace. They are now used to equip vehicles with the connectivity to receive software patches over-the-air – meaning drivers don’t have to head to their local garage to fix a glitch. Instead, the update is done remotely.

What’s more, eSIMs are able to change cellular network when roaming. This is key; with the promise of a vaccine, you might be looking to drive down through Europe for your summer holiday this year, but are concerned that with a long trip planned, your car’s connectivity could be subject to expensive local data regulations after a while. eSIM removes the need to equip your car with a local SIM wherever you’re staying, and instead connects seamlessly to a high performing local connection.

eSIM technology has even enabled ground-breaking smart functionality in the likes of bikes. Greyp’s eMTB bike, for example, contains intuitive tracking systems and always-on connectivity, allowing cyclists to share their journeys as they travel.

Secure connectivity in flight

The drone market continues to expand, not least because its commercial applications in farming, infrastructure and security, for example, are multiplying at a rapid pace.

Mobile connectivity, powered by eSIM, is catalysing this growth. eSIMs play an important role in enabling beyond line of sight operations – such as flight path tracking and remote identification – and are essential as drones innovate towards autonomy. The delivery of much-needed medical supplies to the Isle of Wight in the UK by drone earlier in the year gives a good flavour of how cellular-enabled drone flight could be transformative in myriad situations.

eSIMs and the rise of healthtech 

This year it’s never felt more important to be cognisant of our health. While health services have done a brilliant job of treating COVID-19 cases, it has been equally as important to track and monitor symptoms in order to limit the spread of the infection – as well as reducing the exposure of more vulnerable people to the virus.

Once again, connected technology has played an important role here. IoT devices have allowed doctors to track the vital signs of their patients from afar, as well as providing connectivity for medical staff to keep in touch with their patients remotely. This protects those that are most vulnerable from having to potentially expose themselves to coronavirus.

A final word on eSIM

Over the past few years, eSIM has benefited from increased market demand and active support from different industry stakeholders. During the COVID-19 pandemic context, its genuine benefits have been further surfaced, particularly as part of mobile operators’ strategies to digitalise their services.

To find out more about how eSIM is playing a key role in transforming a host of different industries, visit our Thales page here. Thales was also ranked number one by independent technology analyst Counterpoint for eSIM enablement in 2020, the second year in a row it has been handed such a commendation.

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