New dawn for mobile phone tech as eSIM beckons

BY ANTONY MUTUNGA

Last year not only saw the advancement of emerging technology but also the introduction of new innovations. IoT, 5G and artificial intelligence, for instance, advanced to new heights while the likes of NANO1, the world’s smallest astronomy camera and solar roadways became a reality.

In 2020, technology is expected to go even further as the likes of 5G become more available around the world. However, this is not the only mobile technology expected to become more popular in the year. 2020 is also expected to be the year of the eSIM. Despite being used in Apple devices such as the I-Pad and Apple watch in 2012, the technology did not advance into smartphones until Google implemented it in their Pixel 2 phones later in 2017.Onwards the mobile technology has continued to gain traction as more and more mobile operators look to employ it in their latest devices. Looking to replace the commonly used SIM cards, the eSIM (embedded subscriber identity module) is a SIM in form of a small chip inside your phone. Unlike the normal SIM card, which can be removed, has only one network carrier and information is not rewritable, the eSIM is the opposite as it is able to support multiple carrier profiles, allowing the user to switch. 

With normal SIM cards, the carrier is able to lock them but the eSIM eliminates this problem because with the user having control, the carrier cannot lock your eSIM.  With this technology normal SIM cards are set to be a thing of the past, as users will no longer have to rely on different cards whenever they want access to different network carriers. 

In terms of size the eSIM is about four times smaller than the physical SIM card and even in comparison to the nano SIM, it is still two times smaller. This gives phone manufacturers more space to improve other components. Apart from leaving more space for the improvement of other mobile components, the technology will be included in more devices such as laptops and computers making seamless connectivity the norm. The eSIM is especially going to be a huge advantage to those who travel on the regular basis. Before, when travelling it was common for one to swap to another carrier’s SIM card in order to keep your coverage or one would be forced to use roaming which is a bit expensive. However, with eSIMs considered to start going commercial this year, this is going to change. The fact that the eSIM is able to support multiple carriers that support the technology; there will be no more need to swap or use roaming whenever you travel to a new location.In 2019, the eSIM was integrated in the Google pixel 4 and pixel 4 XL as well as Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Despite only being hybrids as they included a slot for a physical SIM, the eSIM was slowly becoming popular. The year did not end as the first eSIM only smartphone in the world, the Motorola RAZR v4 was introduced. It marked the transition from physical SIM and hybrid devices to a pure eSIM-only ecosystem. Despite gaining traction and about to become the norm in the new set of smartphones, the eSIM also comes with a few challenges that users should be ready to accommodate if they are willing to make the switch. For instance, the fact that the eSIM is an inbuilt chip; one will have a challenge when they want to replace phones. One of the main advantages of the physical SIM is if ones’ phone broke down, one would just need to remove the SIM card and ones data will be transferred with it to a new phone.

However, with eSIMs this will not be possible meaning that users will have to rely on cloud computing to back up their data such as contacts and credentials. In addition, with eSIMs inbuilt network, operators will be able to track users. With a physical SIM, one would be able to remove the card in order to disable the tracking. With cybercrimes also increasing around the world, eSIMs are also at risk of being hacked. According to the ninth annual cost of cybercrime study by Ponemon, the average cost of cybercrime is Sh1.3 billion ($13 million) per organization, an increase of Sh141.6 million ($1.4 million) over the past year. As a result of the eSIMs being controlled at the servers of mobile operators, the servers will be at risk of being hacked. Additionally, transferring data to the cloud also risks the user as cloud computing can serve as a soft target for cyber criminals.

The eSIM being an inbuilt chip inside the phone might make it a bit more costly. This is the reason as to why the phones already integrating the eSIM technology have only been high-end phones so far. However, it is only a matter of time before the technology comes to middle-end and low-end phones.

Lastly, a major challenge as of now for the eSIM technology is the fact that only a number of network carriers are supporting it. As of January 2020, about 60 countries offered eSIM services around the world. Out of these, none was from Africa. Even though this is expected to change in the near future, as of now many people will miss out on the technology continuing to widen the digital divide.  

As technology keeps advancing, the age of the physical SIM might be coming to an end. Just like removable batteries before them, SIM cards are being replaced with the eSIM technology. The potential of the eSIM technology is huge especially with the growing market for new technologies. 2020 will continue to see eSIM being adopted by more mobile operators. However, the choice will remain with the user whether to invest in an eSIM only device or a hybrid device that is, until the physical SIM is completely phased out.      

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