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eSIM extends its reach to wearables, cars and global roaming

Embedded SIM cards have become a necessary evil for mobile operators. The SIM has been a source of power for them for so long, that attempts by Apple and others to introduce embedded SIMs which they, not the MNO activated, were seen as an assault on the foundations of the business model. But with the emergence of the IoT, and the prospect of huge numbers of connected objects, the automatically activated eSIM became the only way to control the new users, and operators backed the GSMA’s eSIM specification – one that at least they, not Google or Apple, drove.

Now that is extending its reach far and wide as M2M use cases proliferate, especially in the connected car. This week has seen the first eSIM-based roaming between two separate M2M platforms, as well as a new version of the spec to address consumers.

The latter, the product of the GSMA’s Consumer Remote SIM Provisioning initiative, allows users to activate eSIMs remotely in fitness bands, tablets or smartwatches. Apple already allows consumers to activate a SIM, and select of swap operators, in some iPads, but this spec goes a lot further into the full range of wireless consumer electronics. It is particularly aimed at customers who want to connect several devices, such as wearables, via the same subscription.

Alex Sinclair, the GSMA’s CTO, said: “This is the only interoperable and global specification that has the backing of the mobile industry and lets consumers with a mobile subscription remotely connect their devices to a mobile network. This new specification gives consumers the freedom to remotely connect devices, such as wearables, to a mobile network of their choice and continues to evolve the process of connecting new and innovative devices.”

The older, non-consumer strand of the M2M eSIM addresses the opposite situation – where the consumer has no involvement in provisioning a new device and this requires to be done fully automatically. This is the focus of a tie-up between two M2M-focused groups, the Bridge Alliance and the Global M2M Association. Between them, the two bodies’ operator members work in 77 countries, and they will now support a common connectivity platform, called Multi-Domestic Service, for all those markets, via remote provisioning of GSMA-compliant eSIMs.

This is a step towards a globally standardized platform for roaming ‘things’, especially those – like shipping containers – which cover huge areas of the world. The Bridge Alliance members cover 35 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and the GMA’s seven operator groups work in 42 markets in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.

This is the world’s first inter-alliance deal provision the eSIMs remotely. “It significantly reduces barriers for enterprises, keeping total cost of ownership low while maximizing quality of service,” said the new partners in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, a group of carmakers has also announced support for the GSMA’s eSIM specifications, as they apply to connected vehicles. The eSIM allows a car manufacturer to connect a vehicle with a local operator, regardless of where it was made. The new supporters are General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Renault Nissan, Scania and Volvo.

Sinclair said: “This approach will help car manufacturers offer any type of in-car connected service through a single SIM, which can be provisioned with the profile of a mobile operator once the car is shipped, as well as at the end of a contract, without the SIM needing to be changed.” At least 22 operators have launched connected car solutions based on the eSIM specification, including KPN, Swisscom, Telenor and TIM.

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