On Wednesday, 15th July, 2020, MTN Nigeria became the first network provider to introduce the e-SIM to the Nigerian market. The telecommunication company then calls on subscribers with an e-SIM enabled device to visit their store to get activated.
MTN plans to run a test on the e-SIM with 5,000 subscribers, based on first come, first served basis. The test is billed to run for one year.
This might be the beginning of the end of the physical Subscriber Identification Module (SIM), and the beginning of the e-SIM revolution.
What is an e-SIM?
An embedded SIM (e-SIM) is a programmable SIM card in form of a chip, implanted into devices, smartphones, and wearables.
In contemporary times, if you need to use another network, you have to switch to another SIM card, before you can use their network, but, with e-SIM, that will not be necessary.
No physical swapping of SIM card is needed, because the information of the e-SIM is rewritable.
The implementation of the e-SIM started in 2012 with the embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC) implanted into cars. This eUICC was used for cars to connect with network provider so that they can be used to make emergency calls when there is need for such.
The e-SIM is backed by the GSM Association (GSMA) backs the e-SIM.
How does the e-SIM work?
When mobile phones were first made, they had no SIM cards. In place of the SIM card, the phones of that time was programmed to work with a fixed network provider. You must have heard of phones that are network-locked, this was what happened to first generation mobile phones.
It was not until the early 90s before phones started having physical SIM cards, allowing phone users to switch between network providers as they wish. All they needed to do was to get another SIM card inserted into their phones, and they would be connected to another network.
The e-SIM works similarly to the way first generation mobile phones work. The only difference is that, the information on the chip, would be rewritable. This will allow phone users to switch between mobile networks of their choice.
Registering the e-SIM would still follow the laid down guidelines by the regulatory body of the country, and would still be regulated.
What are the advantages of the e-SIM?
One of the biggest advantage of the e-SIM is that it enables users to have several SIM profiles on one e-SIM. To do this, users might have to scan a QR code, or use network provided parameters to make the switch.
This will in many ways be beneficial to Nigerians. With the plethora of complains about network providers, ditching one network for a perceived better network would be a walk in the park.
Users that travel overseas would be one of the biggest winners of the e-SIM revolution. Instead of roaming, or buying new SIM cards, people with e-SIM supported devices will just connect their devices to a network of their choice.
Although, they would still have to follow the guidelines for acquiring new lines in their host countries.
The possibility of losing or damaging the SIM card is greatly reduced, as there won’t be need to remove and replace SIM cards. The need to cut SIM cards and find attachments to hold smaller SIM cards is also eliminated.
Downsides of the e-SIM
While there are advantages of the e-SIM, there are also some disadvantages to it.
Nigerians would know that power supply would make this a little difficult to manage. Imagine if your phone battery dies, and you need to make a call, or use data. In the case of physical SIM cards, you could insert your card into another device to use.
However, with the few number of e-SIM supported devices, you might just have to charge your battery before using your line.
Below are some other disadvantages of the e-SIM:
- e-SIM is a developing technology, and only high-end devices have such technology. High end devices are expensive.
- Only a few countries of the world have the e-SIM activated. This will present limitations with the use of devices that support e-SIM, because the users might still need to use a physical SIM.
- e-SIMs are not removable. This makes it easy for the user to be tracked with their numbers, and through cell towers. This could have been stopped by merely removing the SIM card.
Devices that support e-SIM
At the time of compiling this article, only a handful of devices support e-SIM.
Those devices are:
Google – Pixel 3 and 3 XL; Pixel 4 and 4 XL
Apple – iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max; iPhone XS, XS Max, and iPhone XR.
Samsung – Samsung S20 series, Galaxy Z flip.
Motorola – Razr.