back to article Keep yer plastic, says analyst: eSIMs aren't all they're cracked up to be

eSIM-enabled phones are a solution to a problem that doesn't exist – and consumers are better off without it, according to analyst Dean Bubley. The eSIM replaces the removable plastic chip card provided by mobile network operators with an embedded, programmable chip. Last week Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, set off a …

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  1. Lee D Silver badge

    I think they miss the point entirely.

    It's about saying "My eSim is XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Please can I move to your service?" Whether you do that online, via the device itself, by entering a code on a signup instruction, or buy "buying" a little card in a newsagent and following the instructions, it doesn't matter. In effect, it doesn't matter whether it's a bit of plastic, there's no need for any stupid menus (that's a rubbish argument if ever I heard one),, etc. You just need a page on a provider's website with a place to enter your eSim number, some kind of text-message verification and, bang, you've changed suppliers to any one you want in the world.

    Don't forget - buying a SIM is not the end of the process. You often have to "top up" nowadays before you even start, so there's usually a need to do something beyond just buying the SIM .

    In effect, this actually bypasses the need for the SIM number itself, too. All you need know is "this is my phone number" and from there you can port the phone number and eSIM to any provider you like just by asking them.

    eSim is a good idea. It's not ground-breaking. But it's a good idea. Why we're all determined to rid ourselves of tiny little slots that take up next to no room and have been shrinking forever, I can't fathom. But if people want that, sure, it's nice and easy.

    "Hey, Vodafone, you suck! Hey, Giffgaff! My eSim code is XXXXXXXXX, sign me up!"

    "Hey, I've just landed in an airport, taken a leaflet for Spain Telecom, I ring this number, type in my eSim number, it texts me, I confirm, bang I'm online".

    Why anyone would state that needs any bits of plastic, interactive menus of contracts or MVNOs or anything else, I can't imagine.

    1. malle-herbert Silver badge
      Facepalm

      I think you're the one who is missing the point entirely...

      Apart from ease of hacking someone else's account,

      There's also the problem of consumer lock-in that most phone providers would love to have !

      1. picturethis
        Flame

        One of the rules of capitalism..

        Any time a commercial entity (in this case Apple) proposes a change to a current, working system (such as sim cards) it's usually to the monetary benefit (less cost to manufacture & end-user lock-in to vendor) of the entity. One could say the same thing regarding the elimination of the headphone jack or the lightning connector, the list goes on...

        Any possible perceived benefit (real or unreal) to the end-user is purely coincidental and seconday to the previous statement - and is used to lauch a publicity war on the users to get them to accept the change without them understanding the true impact and reason it is being made. - Basically most companies don't give a shit about their customers, they only care about extracting maximum profit from the user's personal worth.

        You see, it really is just about profit for most companies nowadays - it's not about being the best at something, or providing the best value, it's just about profit anyway they can get it - it doesn't matter how, when, why, who or what.

        Do you really think that any cost savings that Apple gets will be passed on to the consumer? I don't think so. More than likely, Apple will turn this into a profit center - after all, specialized software, infrastructure will be needed along with a surcharge - all under the guise of "security".

        (non-E) sim cards work just fine, in fact they work too well for Apple's liking..

        (As a side note, I keep reading about how millenials can't afford to purchase a home.. I wonder if not spending the $2500-3000 / year that each one spends on having a phone, premium cable, netflix, hulu, CBS, disney subscriptions and the $400/month lease on that brand new car, would help towards a mortgage - you can't have everything - grow up and choose what you really need - and not just something you "want") - For those that are being financially responsible, I apologize.

        Flame away, I stand by my convictions..

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      "But if people want that, sure, it's nice and easy.

      "Hey, Vodafone, you suck! Hey, Giffgaff! My eSim code is XXXXXXXXX, sign me up!""

      It might even become as easy as it is to change electricity suppliers.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        It might even become as easy as it is to change electricity suppliers.

        Regardless of whether it is easy or hard, the harsh reality of changing mobile phone providers is that it is identical to changing electricity suppliers - you simply move from one shower of sh*t to another.

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        s/suppliers/billing_companies

        As title. Nobody ever switches electricity supplier unless they physically move. there is only one DNO in an area.

        No, not having a go at you personally DavCrav but the misuse of the term 'supplier' gets my goat. Telecomms is much more fluid as there are actually multiple service providers (although the physical line for a landline might be tied to openretch in a non cabled area)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Hey, Vodafone, you suck! Hey, Giffgaff! My eSim code is XXXXXXXXX, sign me up!"

      Certainly, Mr D. You just need to pay Vodafone the £99.99 unlock fee before we can transfer your number.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        "Certainly, Mr D. You just need to pay Vodafone the £99.99 unlock fee before we can transfer your number."

        They aren't allowed to do that now, and you just make it so that they wouldn't be allowed to do that in the future. Unless you owe them money, they are obliged to give you a PAC code for your phone number, which is just the same kind of process. All we're really talking about is going one level down to eSim number instead of PAC code (at worst, making eSims - which can handle dozens of virtual SIMs - add a new fresh virtual SIM, then getting GiffGaff to port your number to that eSim... same phone, same process, some end result).

        Look at the wording: Giffgaff take over the eSim, not Vodafone give it up.

        At worst, you're in exactly the same situation as now.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Christian Berger Silver badge

      That won't work

      Of course your provider could put your IMSI (Subscriber ID) into their database, however to be able to exchange data, they also need the key of your SIM. Sharing that data with other companies is a huge security risk. Not only would people be able to make calls on your bills, they would also be able to decrypt all the data that is exchanged via the radio interface. There is only one carrier I know of, which will give you the key to their SIM and that's "Eventphone". They don't offer service to mere mortals.

      Instead many countries have something called "number portability", a partially manual process in which you can move your number from one carrier to another one with little effort.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: "number portability"

        Works after about 10 minutes in Ireland when you change Sim.

        Cost to unlock phone is close to zero (at operator, €22 for 3rd parties) as long as contract is up, or 9 months past on subsidised Pay as You Go (AKA "pre pay" or anonymous Sim).

        Phone subsidies are evil. They lock out some makers and increase "landfill" on contracts. Ordinary network users are then also subsidising those "buying" high end phones "free on contract".

        They need banned.

        1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          Re: "number portability"

          On this side of the pond in 'feral land', you have number portability. All it takes is signing up with a new carrier and getting a new SIM. If you do it right there is no cost to you. Also, some carriers are pay as you go and you buy the phone outright. Other than laziness and no pressing need or desire to change I can change any time as I am a pay as you go plane and own my phones outright.

          1. Christian Berger Silver badge

            Re: "number portability"

            In Germany htere's a maximum amount of money carriers can charge to port the number. I think it's 20 Euros. However the new carrier typically will give you a rebate of 20 Euros when you port an old number to it.

        2. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: "number portability"

          indeed Mage. I've only ever owned two 'tied to a network' phones (circa 1997 and 1998). Yes, I had to get a new phone after a year, because the deal was only available from Orange (now half of EE) on a boxed kit with new phone, sim, leather pouch (remember them?) and 12 months prepaid (over 30 mins per month billable).

          So I ended up with two identical phones. It was fortunate the market moved slower in them days... the phones were identical so i ended up with four batteries, 2 chargers, etc. (necessary with early motorola handhelds).

          But it did strike me as an amazing waste of resources that simply paying for an extra year cost MORE than entire new set of kit. So when I finally ditched the orange phones in 2001ish, I bought unlocked nokias which I continued to use till 2010, when I bought my first smartphone. A Galaxy A3. Outright. for cash.

          Provider keeps trying to tempt me with free phones. But if i question them, it turns out the phone is NOT free, it's 'subsidized provided i sign up for xx months'. They've quit calling me recently after being told to stop lying to me

          1. xpz393

            Re: "number portability"

            Ah, Orange "Boxed & Ready" - I remember flogging those... £150-£200 one-off for 12 months line rental, and 15min per month included. Back in the days when companies were more interested in capital (consumer buys) than revenue (consumer leases) approach of today.

            The first inception included a Motorola MR20 handset, which had key features such as caller ID, and the ability to receive SMS. This was later replaced by the MR30, which had a slightly longer battery life, and could also send SMS. The MR20 and MR30 batteries were indeed interchangeable. Orange eventually upped the monthly allowance from 15 to 30 minutes.

            If I recall correctly, the package was eventually killed off with its third and final handset, the Motorola c520, though by that point, pre-paid had become a cheaper proposition for light users.

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  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    eSIM? This analyst is behind the times

    It's all about iSIM these days.

  4. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Maybe the mobile operators need a better business model ?

    One that aims to share infrastructure rather than duplicating it.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      "One that aims to share infrastructure rather than duplicating it."

      The expensive infrastructure (buildings) are already shared. It's rare to find a site where you only have one. In fact usually they even use the same antennas.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    eSim? Still struggling with Paper-Sims

    Just wondering if anyone else runs into this. I've been struggling with paper / cardboard Sims for years, even wrecking phones as a result of the 3-part cardboard Sim coming apart when taking the Sim out of the slot. The underlying pins get caught up in the 3 layers of crappy designed cardboard.

    Who the hell designed this system? Why is a Sim built on cardboard instead of plastic or something more rigid anyway. Anyone know... I just love when you have to swap Sims between a full-size and micro size phone a few times on holiday etc, and the Sim is shredded after 2/3 goes. WTF?

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: eSim? Still struggling with Paper-Sims

      Those multi sims are designed so they don't need a specfic version for the older phones that take a full sized sim, or less older phones that take the mid sized sim or the ones that have the micro-floss edging around them now. You're suppose to be able to pop out the one you want, in theory anyway.

    2. ivan5

      Re: eSim? Still struggling with Paper-Sims

      I've been struggling with paper / cardboard Sims for years,

      Where on earth do you get cardboard Sims? All the ones I've used are plastic and have been for years.

      If you find yourself needing to change Sims frequently maybe you need to invest in a dual Sim phone.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. iron Silver badge

          Re: 'If you find yourself needing to change Sims frequently invest in a dual Sim phone'

          Never seen a cardboard SIM, they have always been plastic like a credit card and can't be "torn by hand."

          What medieval backwoods are you living in that uses a cardboard SIM?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 'If you find yourself needing to change Sims frequently invest in a dual Sim phone'

            Also as regards 'Dual Sim' there's another significant aspect. Privacy! Google and WhatsApp are heavily used in our region and line of work (nothing we can do about it). But its not at all clear if both Sim's contacts can be slurped. We don't want that...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Anyone got a link / pic of a 'Plastic' SIM?

              This is what we're stuck with. Western Europe / Latam:

              These bend & break easily, and are tearable by hand:

              https://pxhere.com/en/photo/498450

            2. katrinab Silver badge

              Re: 'If you find yourself needing to change Sims frequently invest in a dual Sim phone'

              Does anyone keep their contacts on a SIM these days? I keep mine on my Exchange server. iCloud, Google, etc provide a similar service.

            3. eldakka Silver badge

              Re: 'If you find yourself needing to change Sims frequently invest in a dual Sim phone'

              Also as regards 'Dual Sim' there's another significant aspect. Privacy! Google and WhatsApp are heavily used in our region and line of work (nothing we can do about it).

              Don't use the same phone and SIMs for both work and personal use.

              Have separate work and personal phones and SIMs.

  6. steelpillow Silver badge
    Go

    Built on IoT

    I do think that the idea of a few bleeps and the user is happy is more attractive to everybody than managing little pieces of plastic, so it will probably happen.

    Given that IoT eSIMs must be serviced reliably, it is hard to see how the telcos can block smartphones from the same flexibility. I'd just download a "pretend I'm my Skoda" app to my Gemini. (Yes I do have one, and very futuristic it feels too: all that "retro" shit is just that, shit. I digress.) Um, now what's Indiegogo's url?....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought the "purpose" of eSIM was vendor lock-in? If there is no SIM card, they can make completely locked down phones which we can't change networks on...

    1. Credas Silver badge

      Quite. Most people on the left side of the pond never have got the point of SIMs - deliberately in the case of corporates.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Yes, the rejection of the SIM concept struck me when I moved to leftpondia in 2000. They were selling 'digital' cellphones with no sim slot... I was ...perplexed. Turns out it was some cdma halfbreed

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      IIRC the US networks tried very hard (and may have succeeded) to have a "lock" included in the e-SIM spec so that they could network lock the e-SIM itself, rather than just the phone.

      Ah, here we are, they even (allegedly) managed to get the GSMA to go along with it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unrepairable

    It would be yet another step to reduce the chances of being able to repair a phone, just as with non-replaceable batteries and SD cards.

  9. Spanners Silver badge
    Flame

    Do not want.

    In fact, "do not want" is not strong enough.

    "Really, really want not to have this" is a better description.

    Phone companies across the world look to the US to see how customers can be properly abused and locked in.That is why they talk enthusiastically about the iSIM. It will enable them to tell us what we want.

  10. Bavaria Blu
    Happy

    solution looking for a problem

    If you're a rich corporate user, your company will have purchased a global roaming plan with enough data.If you're a tourist going to a non-EU / roam like home country then buy a local SIM at a supermarket or the airport, pop it in an off you go. Huawei have had dual SIM for a while, hopefully it will catch on with Apple / Samsung as standard.

    Much more interesting is the problem when roaming that your internet traffic is routed all the way back to your home country and then to whichever website you're on. That means a very sluggish response (That, and the problem that roaming is often 3g even with 4 plans!)

    Also it confused geoblocked websites. View the BBC homepage in the UK with a foreign SIM and you'll see the .com with all the adverts.

  11. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Why does Apple want eSIMs?

    Since Apple helped develop the original spec, presumably with saving space as their motivation

    Nah, it makes the walled garden a bit bigger: operators get to bid to be Apple's provider supplier for its MVNO.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

      If Apple wanted to lock people in to an Apple MVNO they'd just build a SIM inside the phone, with no way to remove it except by disassembly, if that.

      The fact they don't shows that your paranoia is not justified. Apple wants to make it easier for people to switch carriers, enable support of multiple carriers at once, and have ways for software to switch between them automatically (i.e. when I'm home use this SIM certificate, when I'm in Europe use this one, when I'm in China use this one)

      The carriers obviously don't want this, they want to soak people when they travel outside the boundaries of their plan. That's why they've been fighting it for years.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

        If Apple wanted to lock people in to an Apple MVNO they'd just build a SIM inside the phone, with no way to remove it except by disassembly, if that.

        If they were to do that then there would be pointing fingers and people calling out "look at that, see how they're screwing the system" because it would be very blatant.

        By going to an eSIM then they'd have a system where you go into iTunes on your MAC and select the carrier you want your phone to be on and your Mac will then load the eSIM with the right information. Or it might be done via your online account. The crucial thing there is that it allows Apple to sell it as a convenience feature for users - while behind the scenes it means they get to control which carriers you can select (basically the ones that pay them enough of a cut).

        The biggest problem with swapping physical SIMs is simply the way that some manufacturers seem to have gone out of their way to make it difficult. Some make it as easy as popping out the tray and swapping the bit of plastic. With others you have to get the back off (that is made to be hard to get off, remove the battery, then find something sharp enough to jab into the SIM and drag it out - with reassembly being the reverse of the above.

        TL;DR No, you will not persuade me that if Apple goes eSIM it's for the benefit of the users and not for the benefit of Apple.

      2. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

        No you've got the wrong end of the stick - no sim card makes a lock in easier. With a physical sim card I can just pop it out and swap networks very easily. On my devices I can buy a local sim when I arrive at the destination. As is mentioned I'd need a data connection to be able to get the details and terms and conditions of each carriers deals. Otherwise how would I know which one to go for with an esim. If the sim in my phone can be swapped out in seconds my mobile carrier can do bugger all about it. If I had an esim I wouldn't be able to just swap the thing out and the carrier I want to use has to work with the esim.

        1. DisruptiveDean

          Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

          The main reason Apple would want eSIMs is to avoid cutting holes in its devices for a removable tray, and also the need to dedicated 100 cubic millimetres or whatever to it, and the design constraints imposed by its location. It's about engineering.

          The main reason Apple will be reticent about eSIM (and being a multinational MVNO) is the user experience, from user selection of networks to dealing with customer service issues. It will also bring a ton of regulatory complexity, eg needing to comply with different countries' rules on registering SIM owners.

          My view is that Apple likes the theory of eSIM, and in the (very) long run might push it further, but it's aware of the practical limitations and will continue doing small-scale experiments for now.

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

            Have an upvote DisruptiveDean

            I hate apple like the best of em, but it's going to be the design considerations that drive them. They're definitely going to want a free choice of providers (now they've established themselves, in the iphone's early days, exclusivity and tie ins made sense, to get the brand out there). Now they're well known as ..well, a phone brand... so the more customers who can use their device the better.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

              "Now they're well known as ..well, a phone brand... so the more customers who can use their device the better."

              But the best way to do that is to find a way to have universal LTE frequency support, supporting ALL FDD and TDD LTE Bands so that they can truly be used anywhere in the world, regardless of the operator and the frequencies used (case in point: it's tricky to buy a US phone that works well internationally or vice versa because the frequencies they use are often mutually exclusive, for reasons predating LTE). Then they won't need an eSIM or anything of the sort: just pop in a SIM, ANY SIM at all and it just works: first time every time. That's the kind of ease of use the late Steve Jobs would be crowing about.

      3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Why does Apple want eSIMs?

        The fact they don't shows that your paranoia is not justified.

        No paranoia just healthy cynicism: it makes Apple the gatekeeper and takes power away from the user. If I travel outside the EEA I buy a relevant SIM: job done. If Apple was really interested in serving the customer it would reduce its margins.

  12. Mage Silver badge
    Devil

    eSim: not about space.

    Not needed even for IoT.

    I have a "watch" with a micro SD card and a Sim. It's not about space, Neither is deleting the SD card slot or the 3.5mm jack (control of content and a gimmick to sell expensive buds that need separately charged AND reduce quality).

    It's mostly about Apple wanting more control and more profit. Save another few cents.

  13. DougS Silver badge

    I wonder how much money this analyst makes from carriers?

    It isn't as though consumers are hiring a cellular industry analysts - but carriers would. This guy knows who pays his bills, and is telling the story they want to be told.

    1. DisruptiveDean

      Re: I wonder how much money this analyst makes from carriers?

      I make my money from vendors, operators, regulators, investors & startups. Sometimes I do sub-contracted work for other larger consultancies .

      In most cases, I get asked to stress-test people's existing assumptions, as I'm known to be a curmudgeon and contrarian. Unlike some analysts, I won't sugar-coat things. My reputation revolves about being critical - many would say *too* critical.

      My Twitter handle is @DisruptiveDean for a reason.

  14. steelpillow Silver badge
    Happy

    Removable

    Nice thing about the Gemini is, the eSIM is not embedded. It is an optional slot-in and is removable. If you don't like it you can swap back to a good ol' vendor-locked SIM.

    Judging by the comments here, a lot of you folks don't realise that. I'm not sure that the esteemed analyst concerned did, either.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Removable - OOPS

      @steelpillow For the record: readers of comments should note that the Gemini PDA eSIM is embedded electronics. It is not removable, as you have said!

      The Gemini 4G incorporates two SIM facilities, if eSIM is the "first slot" the "second" slot is for for a regular micro-SIM card, and the system software clearly separates the micro-SIM and eSIM. Prioritising is also enabled as the owner can elect to assign the micro-SIM to "SIM slot 1" or "SIM slot 2" (and preferred SIM usage is also optional within "Settings").

      As commissioned in the Gemini PDA: eSim will be capable of running several (7 or 8 likely) Telco/ISP accounts, not just one, but whether the Telcos are ever required to enable this is another matter altogether (I don't hold out much hope in the UK - Telco lobbyists rule the roost over Government and politicians).

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Removable

      Yes on the Gemini that may or may not be the case but there are no guarantees that this will be the case on other manufacturers products. Look at the latest version of the Apple Watch for an example of a non removable one.

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