Kathy Gibson is at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona – The global eSIM ecosystem has taken off over the past two years, driven in large part by standards adopted by the GSMA as well as massive take-up by Chinese telcos.
A new report highlighting the significant progress made by Chinese mobile operators, vendors and manufacturers in adopting Remote SIM Provisioning and eSIM technologies, “eSIM in China: the road ahead” was prepared by GSMA Intelligence in partnership with the Telecommunication Terminal Industry Forum Association (TAF). It draws on fresh insights from China’s three mobile operators – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom – as well other companies from the wider mobile ecosystem and highlights developments particularly in the consumer electronics and IoT sectors.
“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,” says Alex Sinclair, chief technology officer of the GSMA. “From consumer electronics to automotive we are seeing a diverse array of products hitting the market utilising the benefits of connectivity and bringing consumers choice.”
Smartwatches with eSIM technology are gaining momentum in China supported by products from numerous vendors. Although eSIM smartwatches still account for a small percentage of total smartwatch ownership this is likely to increase in the future.
To drive adoption, Chinese operators are also allowing consumers to use their smartwatches as secondary devices with one mobile subscription. Despite creating smartphones for the global market, the Chinese domestic market has not formally adopted eSIM technology which will require appropriate regulation and new manufacturing, logistical and supply chain processes.
Globally, more than 50 mobile operators already support eSIM functionality in 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,” says 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.”
The report highlights the role of 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.
The report highlights the significant efforts being made in China to help set a favourable regulatory framework for eSIM deployments. Streamlining procedures and setting clear, unified rules on eSIM requirements for consumer and industrial devices is critical to accelerating the deployment of eSIM technology and its market adoption. This includes credentials management, designation of root certificate issuing and security and cross-border interoperability.
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.
The report highlights that there have been significant developments in the global eSIM ecosystem over the past two years with more than 90 mobile industry players 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.
While smartwatches were the first mass market product to adopt the technology, there is now growing implementation of eSIM functionality in tablets, laptops, notebooks and smartphones (e.g. Google and Apple). 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.