Are SIM cards numbered? Proponents of eSIM are not saying it out loud but efforts to make this a reality in China – one of the largest and most connected markets in the world – suggests otherwise.
A new joint report by GSMA and Telecommunication Terminal Industry Forum Association (TAF) titled “eSIM in China: the road ahead” suggests that smartwatches, not smartphones, will dominate the eSIM market in China.
The report acknowledged that eSIM smartwatches still account for a small percentage of total smartwatch ownership but hold hope that this is likely to increase in the future. To drive adoption, Chinese operators are allowing consumers to use their smartwatches as secondary devices with one mobile subscription.
For now, Chinese phone manufacturers are not formally adopting eSIM technology for devices targeted for the China market. This is because the transition will require appropriate regulation and new manufacturing, logistical and supply chain processes. Globally, over fifty mobile operators already support eSIM functionality in smartphones.
“In China and around the world, the huge adoption of eSIM technologies has been underpinned by the GSMA’s common and interoperable specification that is reducing fragmentation and delivering a consistent consumer experience,” GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair said.
“From consumer electronics to automotive we are seeing a diverse array of products hitting the market utilizing the benefits of connectivity and bringing consumers choice.”
Smartwatches not smartphones
“China has a unique mobile market, both in terms of size and revenue growth and leadership in mobile developments and tech innovation has reached unprecedented levels. China is increasingly demonstrating its technological innovation and is emerging as a leading global market to test and implement new technologies,” said Xie Yi, Chairman of TAF.
“Promoting the steady development of eSIM in China will help support developments in both the consumer and industrial markets. Based on the premise of national conditions, TAF has been committed to all parties in the joint industrial chain and cooperation with the GSMA, to make the best efforts to this end,” Xie added.
The GSMA-TAF report highlights industry-wide collaboration in driving eSIM developments in China involving operators, government and regulatory bodies. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are all developing eSIM solutions and have launched cellular M2M and IoT eSIM platforms. The Chinese eSIM market is still in an early phase of development in which some proprietary solutions coexist with GSMA specifications. However, it is anticipated that there will be a transitional period as the market matures before it settles on the GSMA specification.
Regulation as driver
The report highlights efforts by China to set a favorable regulatory framework for eSIM deployments. These include streamlining procedures and setting clear, unified rules on eSIM requirements for consumer and industrial devices, credentials management, designation of root certificate issuing and security and cross-border interoperability – all important to accelerating the deployment of eSIM technology and its market adoption.
The report also recommends that the government should facilitate trials of eSIM services, particularly in the nascent industrial IoT to promote an open eSIM ecosystem.
Early adopters of eSIM
To date over 90 mobile industry players are supporting the GSMA’s specifications for Remote SIM Provisioning of consumer devices around the world. All are aligned behind a single, defacto approach avoiding industry fragmentation and interoperability issues, driving global developments and allowing consumer choice.
Devices to come eSIM capable include tablets, laptops, notebooks and smartphones. The automotive industry is also at the forefront of eSIM deployments and built-in connectivity is also now a specific requirement in Europe following the European Emergency Call (eCall) initiative.