Brown’s Bytes – COPE-ing with eSIM

Welcome to Brown’s Bytes! Your weekly insight from Mobliciti’s CTO Andy Brown. Follow #brownsbytes

2nd November 2018

One of the features of the latest generation of Apple iPhones that has so far flown under the radar in the UK is the built-in support for eSIM and I thought it would be interesting to dig into this feature a little further and why I think it could be of particular interest to the Enterprise market.

So, what is eSIM anyway?

The clue is in the name… electronic SIM. The current physical SIM card approach we have here in the UK (and most of the rest of the world) dates back to the early 90s and its basic purpose is to securely pair your phone to the carrier’s network. eSIM is simply a neater solution for this. Rather than having to insert a physical card into the device, it instead allows for the provisioning of the SIM data electronically.

Note – eSIM isn’t particularly new, or specific to Apple. What is new is Apple have launched the ability to use it in your iPhone XR, XS, XS Max and also iPad Pro to provision a second number to your device without mucking about inserting two SIM cards.

Why does it matter?

Good question!

Dual SIM is something that has never caught on in the UK. You could argue that this is because the majority of devices are bought from the carriers as part of the contract and, as I have stated many times before, the carriers are running a very healthy business from all the extra charges we all rack up on our numbers over the life (and beyond) of the contract.

It’s pretty obvious to see why carriers are not going to range Dual SIM devices – if users have the choice about where to route all their voice/SMS/data traffic then the revenue from the handset will be reduced. Up to now Carriers have throttled the market for this by simply providing single SIM only devices.

Now look at the iPhone XR, XS etc. One product code… not a dual SIM variant on a different model number… Carriers have to range the latest and greatest Apple kit… therefore they’ve just ranged Dual SIM devices!

Clever huh?

Why are Apple pushing this?

Something that has been rumoured for years (since the very first iPhone in fact) is that Apple dislike SIM cards a lot! The general gist of this is that, for Apple, they are a throwback piece of technology that is simply wasted space inside the case. They make waterproofing the case harder and use up precious space and weight that could be better used on something else. Bear in mind that this is the company that ditched the 3.5mm headphone port for precisely these reasons.

Now also look at Apple’s view of the world. To them an iPhone is an iPhone… it’s not a special Red Vodafone iPhone or an exclusive EE iPhone. They forced the issue to ensure that all devices get updates at the same time all over the world. Carriers do not get any signoff or approval for this.

The carrier isn’t especially relevant to Apple, other than they are sellers of Apple hardware and they provide connectivity for the devices.

As stated earlier, Apple has rather neatly forced eSIM onto the market as a secondary SIM solution. As with all things Apple, users will start to demand support from carriers for this new feature (a quick Google search will show this is happening on Carrier Forums across the globe). The current status of who supports this has been helpfully collated by Apple also.

Currently EE are the only ones in the UK, but I expect this list to grow as more of the latest phones are deployed (in particular with Christmas fast approaching).

Crystal ball time… and this is just my opinion. This is a classic Trojan Horse play… Carriers start supporting eSIM for secondary numbers and then in 12 months’ time the next generation of devices are eSIM only! This could be when things get really fun, but let’s save that for another time!

And in the Enterprise?

Well, this is actually where Dual SIM devices should make the most sense. Imagine a BYOD iPhone XS where the company can provision a company number on to a user’s existing device. The problem was always that users didn’t have dual SIM devices… now they will!

Or how about a true COPE solution where the company provides a handset with perhaps a user topping up to get the latest shiny Apple premium device. The added sweetener can now be that the user can bring their personal number to the party as well. Dual lines into the phone (so users can easily see what is personal and what is work).

No more mucking about porting numbers in and out of the organisation when users join and leave (as often happens when you blur the lines between Personal and Corporate).

I think this really could help to better deploy COPE and BYOD in the Enterprise. It is going to be very interesting to see how this pans out…

As always, if you would like to know more about this or how to effectively deploy BYOD and COPE in your organisation then please get in touch.