eSIM: an opportunity for operators to innovate

Thomas Henze Program Director eSIM, Deutsche Telekom

Markus Kröber Head of Leiter Smartcard Systems, Deutsche Telekom

Festes Seitenverhältnis The consumer eSIM is big news for the entire mobile industry, opening the door to consumers having multiple personal connected devices. The smartphone may always be the most important but you don’t always want to carry it with you. There are situations where you may want a device which is more task-specific but also provides basic communications, for instance when running or cycling.

Photo Markus Kröber Head of Leiter Smartcard Systems TELEKOM DEUTSCHLAND GMBH V2 As this new segment of personal IoT evolves there will be a plethora of device types rather than a single device or app that serves it all. A concept we demonstrated at MWC16 was a connected teddy bear featuring an embedded SIM. Our demo showed how easy it is to buy a data plan via a web portal, download a related SIM profile to a smartphone and then “activate” and manage additional devices via an operator self care app which makes use of remote RSP (Remote SIM Provisioning) functions. The teddy bear was just one concept of how to activate (i.e. SIM profile download) a device without graphical user interface.

connected_teddy_bear_showcasev2 Of course it is important that additional connected devices create value for the user. You could imagine that a smart teddy bear would be compelling…. it could be a baby monitor with video and audio; it could stream lullabies; it could receive and play messages from an absent parent. And a cellular teddy is more portable so it can go on holiday with the family and is inherently secure compared to Wi-Fi connected devices which have a track record in being hacked. Whether it’s a smart toy, a fitness band or smart glasses, as mobile operator we have to be ready to connect it when it hits the market. As a key enabler in driving connected devices onto the cellular network, eSIM comes just at the right time. The cost of LTE radio modules is dropping, which helps to make the business case more compelling. Networks evolve on high speed, low latency and high capacity to support billions of devices and use cases. We also will see the deployment of LTE narrowband technology which will be ideal for connected devices that have power issues or don’t need to transmit a lot of data. Along this development content and services move increasingly into the cloud, … a lot of trends coming together which create demand for an innovative and instant way of SIM provisioning to a device.

Evolving relationship with customers

In the future connected devices will still be purchased from mobile outlets, via subsidized contracts but also from open market channels. This means operators will need to evolve the relationship with their customers. Beyond competing on network speed, price and service quality, we will be able to offer customers data plans which allow to connect and manage several devices – be it 3, 5, 10 or more – according to customer needs.

In the same instance we think operators could play an important role in bridging different technology ecosystems across devices. Let me explain: As more cellular device categories and potentially operating systems come to play, it is much harder for an OEM/OS provider to keep users in that one ecosystem such as Android, iOS or Windows. Subscribers will probably look at devices for their functionality rather than the OS they are running. Operators could be that glue that ensures a consistent experience across all these device environments.

Ensuring provisioning is simple for the user

With all that in mind an excellent user experience is what finally counts. In order to gain market acceptance it is really important that the new provisioning process with eSIM – although disruptive as such – doesn’t require a drastic change in customer behaviour which is why we saw the activation code voucher as a clean and elegant solution to start with. We are working closely with the GSMA to ensure that future releases of the RSP specification support evolving that activation process further. We want to enable the customer to provision any new device with the network provider of his/her choice in a simple and intuitive way.

Behind the scenes, it’s a significant task for an operator to change its approach to SIM. We already have a huge number of processes and IT systems involved with the current removable SIMs which have been built up over the last 25 years. It impacts our billing systems, core networks, external interfaces and partner relations. All our SIM-processes are designed to work very efficiently. If you don’t work inside an operator, you may be unaware just how complex it can be.

With eSIM, we are introducing a whole new ecosystem and must adapt many of our processes and interfaces. It’s not something that happens overnight or even in a few months but will taketime. In addition we will need to keep evolving them with each new version of the specifications. What is often forgotten and creates additional complexity is the fact, that for an unpredictable time we have to support both ecosystems: removable SIMs as well as the eSIM.

Consumer RSP is a vitally important first step on a journey towards an eSIM specification for all devices, smartphones and industrial devices. We will learn, adapt. We will make it a success. We believe it is one of the most exciting and transformative topics in the mobile industry.

Thomas Henze is Program Director eSIM within Group Innovation of Deutsche Telekom AG in Bonn, Germany. In this role he coordinates all related activities within DT. Markus Kroeber is Head of Smartcard Systems within the Technology unit of Telekom Deutschland GmbH in Bonn. Markus together with his team coordinates all technical topics around SIMs for the DTAG-group in Europe.

Both Thomas and Markus are delegates for Deutsche Telekom within GSMA’s RSP (Remote SIM Provisioning) program – a joined effort of carriers, SIM-vendors and device makers to define a new industry-wide standard for eSIM.