How can mobile operators digitize new customer activation?

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We live in the era of digitization and rapid disruption of traditional processes and business models. In this era, only those who embrace digital technologies and equip themselves with modern solutions can maintain their profitability and competitiveness.

The explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated the digitalization of the traditional SIM allowing more devices to be connected through a cellular network more cost efficiently and with greater flexibility.

Thanks to the eUICC (the eSIM’s software) standardization efforts of GSMA, there’s already a modern digital alternative to the SIM card that digitalizes the entire subscriber activation process, and it represents a tremendous opportunity for mobile network operators and mobile virtual network operators interested in future-proofing their business by offering a fully digital solution immune to physical supply chain disruptions.

Understanding the Need for Remote SIM Provisioning

The traditional SIM card served the mobile industry well for over 25 years. In 2018, 5.6 billion SIM card units shipped worldwide, according to data from SIMalliance, the non-profit association which represents the global SIM industry.

However, its familiarity isn’t enough to keep the SIM relevant in the IoT era.  Ericsson estimates that the number of IoT devices connected to cellular networks will be somewhere around 5 billion by 2025, and most of these devices will have form factors incompatible with the traditional SIM card.

The solution? Remote SIM provisioning, a GSMA specification that makes it possible for mobile network operators and mobile virtual network operators to drastically simplify their supply chains by allowing customers to remotely activate their eUICC SIM-enabled devices.

With remote SIM provisioning, it’s finally possible to effortlessly provide connectivity to devices of all sizes and purposes and allow consumers to choose a mobile network operator with a few simple clicks. The tremendous opportunity represented by remote SIM provisioning is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the shipment numbers of eSIM-based devices are projected to reach two billion units by 2025, up from around 360 million in 2018.

Remote SIM Provisioning Explained

The role of the SIM card as a secure means for authenticating devices onto networks has not changed with the arrival of the eUICC SIM. What has changed is how it’s loaded into devices.

In the past, SIM card manufacturing was the first of many stages in addition to loading data on the chip, packing with collaterals and final delivery a SIM had to go through before the end-user inserted it into a device. The distribution of SIM cards depended on a complicated and easily disrupted (as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic) network of retail shops and retail partners.

Remote SIM provisioning effectively extends the reach of these endpoints to any location that can be reached over the internet, making it possible for subscriber profiles to be securely downloaded over the air into an eUICC, the secure element in an eSIM-capable device.

In practice, there are three different ways to activate an eSIM-enabled consumer device:

  • QR Code: To activate an eSIM-enabled consumer device, a mobile operator may provide end-users with a QR code and instructions on how to connect their device to its remote SIM provisioning system. The QR code is used to load the address of the remote SIM provisioning system (also known as a Subscription Manager – Data Preparation +, or SM-DP+ for short). After establishing a connection to the system, a SIM profile is securely downloaded, installed, and activated.
  • Pre-provision device: It’s also possible to pre-provision eSIM-capable devices with the address of the remote SIM provisioning system by default during the manufacturing stage so that a connection to the system is established automatically as soon as the device is turned on for the first time. This remote SIM provisioning method requires mobile operators to work closely with device manufacturers and remote SIM managers.
  • GSMA Root Discovery Service: The thirdoption to activate eSIM devices is called the Subscription Management Root-Discovery Service (SM-DS), and its purpose is to provide a fully digital remote SIM giving users the freedom to choose their network. Proving the local profile assistant (LPA) which facilitates the discovery service is supported by the device, all that users have to do is purchase a subscription online, pair it with their device, and wait for it to be automatically downloaded and activated over-the-air. This solution currently has limited deployment but is expected to grow once more device makers include this capability in their products.

Conclusion

Embedded SIMs and remote SIM provisioning are now eliminating the costs of physical SIM production and distribution, reinventing the SIM for the digital world by digitalizing the subscriber activation process and offering the user a faster, easier experience and providing the mobile network operators with a low-cost of acquisition, higher average revenue per user (ARPU) and reducing subscriber churn.

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