A guide to eSIM technology for consumer devices

By Valid’s Mobile Solutions Team


eSIM is creating a whole new world of possibilities for its stakeholders, but how does it actually work?

A guide to eSIM technology for consumer devices

Embedded SIM (eSIM) technology has brought a lot of convenience to consumers’ daily lives and revolutionized the way Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) develop their devices. Consumers now have the power to choose and change their mobile operator whenever they want, without the requirement of physically changing their SIM card inside their device or visiting a store. From the OEM perspective, this technology has given them the power to create smaller and smarter devices for the market.

For Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), eSIM creates new business possibilities – with the ability to connect and manage billions of subscriptions in their network – offering their customers a completely digital experience.

But what is an eSIM? And how does this technology work?

Below are 7 key facts about the eSIM to help you better understand this technology and how it will transform the mobile world in the coming years.

  • What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is a secure small chip embedded in your device. It provides a secure vault to store your mobile subscription details securely and digitally. This technology has been standardized by trustworthy industry organizations such as GSMA, ETSI, TCA Alliance and GlobalPlatform.

  • What’s the size of an eSIM? 

The eSIM is a very tiny module, measuring only 2.5mm by 2.3 mm and 0.2 mm thick. The embedded SIM element is already soldered into your device, so you don’t need to worry about manually inserting a traditional SIM card for connectivity.

  • What’s the difference between an eSIM and a SIM card?

The eSIM is different than its predecessor, the SIM card, as it eliminates the hassle of opening the tray of your phone and removing your SIM card every time you want to change your mobile operator or update your network access. The eSIM is built into your handset’s board. It is rewritable and compatible with all leading MNO infrastructure worldwide.

The eSIM downloads the Subscriber Identity Module credentials onto your phone, so it can work exactly as a SIM card. The chipset and the secure software behind it are embedded into your device and assures secure connectivity access.

  • What are the advantages of having an eSIM in your device?

The eSIM brings freedom to the end-user. It is active from the moment they purchase and power on their connected eSIM-enabled device – no need to worry about purchasing a new SIM card or adapting the one in your handset. The eSIM can be remotely updated, allowing the end-user to easily change operators or pick up a local pre-paid number when travelling abroad to avoid excessive roaming costs. The eSIM can also store multiple subscriptions.

For devices makers, it enables to create smaller, dust-resistant and waterproof devices.

For mobile operators and service providers, their logistical operations, costs, and support are simplified. The eSIM eliminates the need to manage SIM cards at customer level. It also provides them plenty of new business opportunities as these connected devices will need digital onboarding set in place to work.

  • Which eSIM smartphones are already available as of September 2021?

There are already many eSIM-enabled devices in the market including smartphones, wearables, tablets, portable PCs, and many more electronic devices. Thanks to Google’s Android Wear OS, Apple’s IOS, and Windows 10 operating systems now supporting the embedded SIM, many more eSIM-compliant devices are coming to the market.

Below you can find a list with some of the eSIM-enabled smartphones available:

According to ABI Research, the shipment of eSIM-compliant smartphones will double in 2021; to 781 million units from 255 million in 2020. In 2025, it is estimated there will be 781 million eSIM-powered phones.

  • How is the eSIM connected to the network?

The eSIM is a secure vault that stores the eSIM profile into the device. The eSIM profile contains the user’s subscriptions and network settings that allow the user to connect to and be authenticated within the desired mobile network. The MNO has to establish a Subscription Manager Data Preparation platform (SM-DP+) to be able to securely download and update the eSIM profile stored inside the device’s embedded SIM. Through the SM-DP+, the operator creates the subscription and the user’s profile so it can be available for download. Major global operators have already established a subscription management platform in order to securely create, manage, download, and update their user’s eSIM profiles.

  • How to activate an eSIM device in the network?

First, you will need connectivity in order to activate your eSIM device. After connecting your device via Wi-Fi or your mobile network, there are many ways in which you can activate your eSIM device. These include:

  • Through a physical or digital QR code provided by your mobile operator.

Following this method, you simply scan the QR code to download the eSIM profile to your device. The QR code includes information that tells the device where to download the eSIM profile securely.

  • Via the Mobile Operator Application.

Once you switch your device on for the first time, the mobile application can automatically trigger the download of your eSIM profile.

  • For operator-subsidized devices, it is possible to set the download address by default during the manufacturing stages for a better user experience.

The eSIM subscription is pre-provisioned inside the device during production. As a result, the address for the SM-DP+ is already present and once the user switches the device on, it automatically downloads the eSIM profile. In this scenario, the MNO and OEM must work closely together during production of the device.

If your desired mobile operator is already connected to this SM-DS platform from GSMA, you can simply switch your device on and it will automatically, remotely, and instantly retrieve the eSIM profile that corresponds to the purchased package and place it in the device.

Download Valid’s eSIM: How it works infographic to know more.

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