GLOBAL SALES

What is an eSIM and How is it Used?

/ Written By Reuben Balik

The eSIM (embedded SIM) is a small chip soldered directly to a board inside a device. 

While that’s still technically the definition of an eSIM, it’s gotten more complicated since the eUICC appeared on the IoT landscape. The eUICC is an embedded universal circuit card—the software that allows network operators to send out SIM profiles to their devices remotely. Today, rather than saying “eUICC-capable SIM,” most people simply say “eSIM.”

Ultimately, the eSIM is the hardware component, and the eUICC is the software component or operating system that allows for over the air (OTA) profile updates.

Hologram eSIM next to a Hologram Standard SIM card

What Are the Differences Between Standard SIMs and eSIMs?

When a device uses a standard SIM, switching its home network requires removing and replacing the physical card. Depending on how many devices are deployed (and how remote their locations are), taking out the cards and replacing them with new ones could be cumbersome.

With an eUICC-enabled eSIM, you can swap out SIM profiles remotely, or over the air (OTA), using a method called Remote SIM provisioning (RSP). RSP sends the proper sequence of bits to firmware, which are passed to the SIM/eSIM device. That allows you to reprogram the contents and connect your device to a new home network. At the device level, RSP is the equivalent of swapping out a physical SIM card.

The GSMA designed its IoT specifications to use a “push” methodology for RSP. The eSIM is manufactured with a “bootstrap” SIM profile to enable an initial network connection. Once the device is online, you can push out a new SIM profile, overruling the bootstrap. Later, if you need to switch to another home network, it’s possible to switch out the SIM profile again without needing to be physically present.

Because of its flexibility, RSP gives IoT device designers and mobile network operators a new degree of freedom.  With a regular SIM from a regional provider, manufacturers must know where a deployment will happen before the device is manufactured.  This delays the manufacturing process and affects the supply chain flow. Hologram’s global SIM already solves this problem and eUICC will further increase an IoT fleet’s flexibility and ability to improve coverage over time.

With the eSIM, the supply chain problem is further improved. You can manufacture devices that are globally compatible, and you’re never going to run into a problem down the line if you need to ship them to a different location than you originally planned. Clearly, eSIM is the future-proof choice for IoT developers. 

eSIMs are often used in micro-mobility devices like escooters

How Can eSIM and eUICC Impact My Current IoT Fleet?

The eSIM represents a big step forward for SIM technology, and it’s set to impact IoT device deployments in major ways. While traditional SIMs still work best in some situations, eSIM has a lot to offer companies who want to scale their IoT deployments. Here are a few ways switching to eSIM could enhance your operations:

  • Streamlining Global Supply Chain
    Switching to eUICC-enabled eSIMs can simplify the manufacturing process. The embedded form factor allows for versatility in size and assembly—you don’t need to have a person inserting SIM cards during manufacturing, and your device can be more compact and well sealed. And because you can send out the needed SIM profile to the devices after they’re deployed, your global supply chain can flow without interruption, creating a single, global product that can be deployed just as easily in Bangalore as it can in Baltimore.
  • Future-Proofing Technology
    With traditional SIM cards, if you need to switch carriers, you need to switch cards. That means locating every device in the fleet, removing the cards, and replacing with the new SIMs—all potentially expensive undertakings. With the eSIM, if you need to change providers, all you have to do is push out the new SIM profiles via RSP. No need to recall devices from the field, and your technology is future-proofed against any unforeseen changes in network needs.
  • Future-Proofing Coverage
    Limiting your devices to a single provider’s network might work in urban areas. But what if your IoT device is deployed in a suburban or rural environment? It might pick up a stronger signal from one carrier and a weak signal—or no signal—from others. When your devices have a single home network relationship, you’re going to uncover many edge cases where that one network is not enough to provide the coverage you need. Using the eSIM helps you avoid that frustration because you can choose the device’s network after it’s deployed—and change it out in the future if it ends up in a different part of the world. 

How Do I Choose an eSIM Partner?

In a global market with many different solution providers and partners, choosing the eSIM partner that’s best for your organization can be challenging. Here are a few questions to consider when you’re evaluating a potential eSIM partner:

  • Are they willing to work with multiple carriers?
    When a provider is neutral in the market, they’re working to integrate with carriers from around the world. They’re willing to take a profile from your connectivity provider and load it on for you. They might even offer an open application programming interface (API), making it easier to develop the eSIM options you need to automate processes within your ordering system or customer portal. If you’re deploying an IoT project globally and at scale, that kind of openness and flexibility can be a tremendous help.
  • Is there variety and depth in the technology and plans they offer?
    Depending on your organization’s needs and device use cases, you might need only eSIMs or a combination of eSIM and regular SIM cards. Look for a partner that can provide everything you need—because the last thing you’ll want to do is juggle multiple providers and carriers. Also, consider device management platforms and developer tools. Some providers restrict access to these, offering them only for large-scale deployments, while others allow full access even if you only need to connect one device. Data plans are another variant to consider—you’ll want to find one that’s adaptable, so you’re not paying for more than you need
  • Do they use a carrier direct or MVNO model?
    Large mobile carriers sell connectivity directly to IoT users, but they cannot offer the same level of coverage and flexibility that an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) can. An MVNO is a third party provider who has negotiated agreements with several mobile network operators to gain access to multiple networks. The combination of network options creates wider coverage for devices and typically eliminates roaming charges. With a MVNO, your eSIMs can automatically switch between carriers as they move from one area to another.

When Can I Start Using eSIMs?

The eSIM is already available in the consumer smartphone market, and it’s rapidly growing into the IoT space. As companies scale to massive IoT deployments, eSIMs will become an essential piece of the puzzle. 

How does Hologram fit into the new wave of eSIM technology? Our mission has always been to connect everything, everywhere. Because there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for every area, we leverage multiple network access and partnerships with carriers to unlock opportunities in different regions of the world.

Starting in 2020, Hologram will begin shipping eSIMs that are eUICC-capable. This aligns with our core vision of a world with simple, universal connectivity. If you’re ready to join the eSIM revolution, we’re here to help. 

Get your devices online in a week.

Get online in under a week

Start conquering the entire globe with a simple SIM swap. We’re here every step of the way.