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EXCLUSIVE: Get the scoop on what eSIM tech means for NZ

07 May 2020

Techday reached out to the biggest telecoms providers in Aotearoa New Zealand to gain a better understanding of how the up and coming eSIM (embedded SIM, not electronic SIM *cough* NZ Herald *cough*) technology changing the way Kiwi consumers and businesses connect.

What is an ‘eSIM’?

eSIM is an alternative to the traditional SIM cards that have been a source of frustration for many a person who has found themselves hunting for a paperclip to jab in that tiny hole on the side of their phone.

It is embedded within the phone’s hardware and can be encoded with a user’s phone number by their telecom provider. 

Unlike the pre-SIM era, this number can be changed at any time, meaning it is not permanently stuck with the phone.

In early-March, ABI Research said there is ‘no question’ that 2020 eSIM smartphone shipments will go over the 225 million milestone.

At the time, the technology research and consulting company projected 500 million eSIM-capable smartphones will ship globally in 2024.

What devices use eSIMs?

Many of the major smartphone manufacturers have begun including eSIM in their handsets.

Any iPhone from the XS and later includes the capability, including the latest release of the SE 

Samsung includes it in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Fold. 

Huawei includes it in the P40 and P40 Pro.

Google in the Pixel 3 and 3A range (although given Google’s history of support for NZ, I wouldn’t rush out to get one.)

These phones also support the traditional microSIM meaning they can switch between two different connections on one phone.

For the fans of more esoteric tech, the Motorola Razr relaunch uses eSIM exclusively.

More importantly, eSIM tech is used in many wearables, such as the Apple Watch, allowing cellular connectivity.

What the NZ telecom giants have to say

We reached out to 2degrees’ media team for comment but they had not replied as of the publication of this article.

While Spark is the only provider that currently supports eSIM, Vodafone has announced that it will be adding support on its network around the middle of this year. 2degrees has made no announcements or comments on the topic.

A Spark representative, corporate relations partner Elle Dorsett, says that there has already been a rise in popularity.

“We are seeing steady growth of customers picking up eSIM. Launching the Apple Watch Series 5 (wearables) definitely gave it a boost. We would expect to see this rise further as more suppliers launch eSIM capable devices,” Dorsett says.

Vodafone NZ wholesale and infrastructure director Tony Baird says that the rollout of 5G will be the real driver of eSIM tech (please don’t email the editor with any 5G conspiracy theories unless you enjoy being called an idiot in a very big font.)

“While there is eSIM capability and features in the 4G environment, which will be supported when we begin rolling out eSIMs, we strongly believe 5G will bring to life the true potential of wearables and dual-SIM devices, so we are focusing on supporting the technology of the future,” Baird explains.

“Already we have seen these trends in other markets, with 5G helping drive the transition of wearables and dual-SIM devices from the early adopter to the mainstream consumer. We expect eSIM will be particularly popular with business people, customers who have a work and personal number, and wearable users.”

Dorsett echoes Baird’s comment that business users are the key driver of eSIM tech, stating “The most obvious (use-case) for business is dual sim – 1 line for personal / 1 line for business on the same device.”

But handsets are not the only place where the tech will find its feet.

“Another example where eSIM functionality could be useful is when seamless network access across different geographic locations is needed, in sectors such as fisheries,” Baird says.

“We expect to see massive growth in cellular-enabled devices over the coming years, bringing to life the internet of things (IoT). The combination of 5G and eSIM will help deliver smarter machine-to-machine performance, as more sensors will have cellular data, helping to enable greater automation.”

In layman’s terms, if you want to have a lot of devices across a huge area gathering information and talking to each other in near-realtime, having eSIM tech on a 5G network will let that happen.

However, as Spark rep Dorsett points out, eSIM is not the end-game for the development of SIM technology.

“In relation to IoT eSIM (eUICC) there is very high interest in the technology but very slow adoption which is to be expected given some of the complexity involved,” she says.

eUICC (embedded universal integrated circuit card) is an eSIM that also allows for the storage of data that relates to the account – similar to how a physical SIM can store contact details, a feature the eSIM doesn’t have.

“Industrial IoT (coming out of NZ business) are still using embedded SIMs, it takes time to alter devices, a supply chain implications associated with using eUICC. At the same time, we have the next generation iSIM making a lot of noise in the market which will equally be of interest, but regardless of eUICC or iSIM the underlying functions of localisation will still be same in both models and will be utilised into the future.”

An iSIM (integrated SIM) is actually integrated into the SoC (system on a chip, basically the processor chip) not just the circuit board, and so is more secure and removes the need for dedicated SIM space.

With all the benefits and potential that eSIM offers, it is no surprise that Vodafone is keen to get the tech moving as soon as it can.

“We are working on bringing eSIM to our customers as quickly as possible. Our aim is to provide a competitive solution for both business customers and consumers as we know eSIM functionality will become even more important in the years to come,” Baird says.

Whether you have the need for two numbers, want to connect your smartwatch to a network, roll out an entire network of connected devices, or simply get rid of that pesky physical SIM card, eSIM seems poised to usher in the next phase of connectivity to Kiwis.

Keep an eye on any eSIM news by checking out tagged stories that come out of the Techday network of sites.