How Operators Can Bridge the eSIM Interoperability Gap

Jean-Philippe Bétoin, Board Director, Trusted Connectivity Alliance

Consumer adoption of eSIM technology is surging. Research from GSMA Intelligence shows operator eSIM deployments and commercial launches have accelerated following the launch of major eSIM-only smartphone models. This is supported by the latest market data from Trusted Connectivity Alliance (TCA), which reveals that in 2022 consumer eSIM profile downloads rose by 130%, alongside the growing deployment of consumer eSIM Subscription Manager (SM) platforms, which increased by 29%.

And with more major device manufacturers moving to launch flagship eSIM-only products, it is clear momentum is set to continue and that the transformative potential of eSIM technology is ready to be realised at scale.

For operators, the potential to grow their customer base through seamless onboarding and activation, fully digitalised experiences and increased personalisation promises huge opportunity. Indeed, there is increasing investment to maximise eSIM benefits and differentiate from the competition.   

Yet as the eSIM market grows in size and complexity, so too does the risk and impact of interoperability issues.

This is a key challenge that emerges when eSIM profiles are not sufficiently or completely tested, and leads to compatibility issues with specific devices on the market. These problems typically only emerge when a subscriber to a new operator tariff follows the steps to download an eSIM profile, only to find that they cannot connect to the network on their device.

Not only does this lead to frustration in the short-term for the consumer, it may also have  commercial consequences for operators in the longer-term, particularly when considering the substantial effort of acquiring new subscribers. It is an increasingly mainstream technology and consumers will expect it to work flawlessly.

For operators to protect investments and avoid churn, providing a seamless customer activation and onboarding experience must be a priority. Fundamental to this is ensuring that eSIM profiles are comprehensively tested before being deployed to identify and address any interoperability or compatibility issues with specific devices.  

But for many operators, this is easier said than done. Although technical standards provide industry-approved guidelines for eSIM development, they are complex and can be subject to slightly different interpretations. Consequently, operator-specific eSIM profiles are rarely comprehensively checked against the technical specifications.

In addition, many operators lack the resources to test against the ever-growing range of eSIM-enabled devices and related technologies necessary to ensure true interoperability.

As the eSIM ecosystem continues to expand to incorporate more devices, components and technical requirements, the complexity of the challenge is only going to increase. A solution is clearly needed, and fast.

Introducing the eSIM Interoperability Service

TCA, as a global industry organisation comprising leading eSIM hardware and service providers, and with a proven record over decades promoting interoperability across the SIM ecosystem, is uniquely positioned to help operators overcome this challenge. Following extensive engagement with industry stakeholders, the organisation has launched the TCA eSIM Interoperability Service, delivered by COMPRION.

By enabling operators to test how their eSIM profiles interact with an extensive range of consumer eSIM devices, the service helps to identify and address individual interoperability and compatibility issues prior to deployment.

Operators can also realise wider efficiencies through the service, which is particularly beneficial for those with more limited resource for in-house testing.

Additionally, it means that operators can commit less resource as they can offload most, if not all, eSIM profile testing demands. Compare this to the previous approach for traditional SIM products, where profile testing could take several weeks for every profile.

The ability to test against a broad and constantly updated inventory of eSIM devices currently deployed in the market, including smartphones, wearables, tablets and laptops, provides the confidence that an eSIM profile is compatible with a wide range of commercially available devices, without the need to independently purchase and maintain an extensive device library.

Through these benefits, operators can promote consumer trust, reduce costs and accelerate time-to-market.

An Industry-Led Approach

Given the significant potential to promote increased eSIM interoperability, the initiative has been welcomed by the industry. Ian Pannell, Chief Engineer at GSMA has pointed out that “GSMA is very pleased to see the emergence of a service that promotes interoperability between eSIM hardware, operator profiles and servers. With the emergence of eSIM-only smartphones in some markets, this service is essential for consumer confidence.”

Looking ahead, the service is anticipated to evolve to support additional testing scenarios that will enable eSIM Subscription Management (SM-DP+) providers and eSIM consumer device manufacturers to improve the interoperability and compatibility of their respective services and products.

The service will also inform TCA’s collaborative work to develop and progress industry initiatives and best-practices that promote a secure, interoperable and scalable eSIM ecosystem.

For further information on the TCA eSIM Interoperability Service, contact [email protected] and visit the TCA and COMPRION websites.