PARTNER INTERVIEW: Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone (pictured), talked to Mobile World Live (MWL) about how eSIM technology will change the mobile industry and how his company is positioning itself at the heart of this transformation.
How did Truphone become involved in the world of eSIM?
For over a week last autumn, if you wanted to try out Apple’s latest gamechanger, the iPhone’s dual-SIM function, the Truphone network was your only option. This made us the first and only operator in the world to allow users to try the latest connected technology.
Instead of waiting on the SIM supply chain, we built the technology ourselves. We made the SIM profiles, held them in our secure data centres and deployed them directly to user devices. What’s more, while many others were handing out eSIM QR codes in stores, we were provisioning SIM profiles via a custom-built app, all digital, all over-the-air.
The more of the technology stack we can influence, the more vertically integrated the supply chain, the more we can refine it and make it better. That’s why we created Truphone Io3 SIM provisioning, technology that allows mobile operators to generate, host and install eSIM profiles as per the GSMA standard. We’re incredibly proud that Truphone Io3 is now within the top three eSIM players globally just nine months after launch, with more than ten mobile network operators (MNOs) already onboarded and using our eSIM management solution. Our innovative commercial model is designed to be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly: instead of paying up front for stacks of plastic cards they’ll never use, Truphone only charges MNOs if the SIM is making money.
What benefits does eSIM bring to the mobile market?
Truphone has always believed in a mobile world without boundaries and eSIM makes this happen. The plastic SIM will go the same route as the floppy disc, CD and DVD and become completely digital. Truphone believes this is the future, so is leading the way.
The plastic SIM, even though we have lived with it for 25 years, is a bit of a pain: eSIM just makes things so much easier, and faster. I like to think that getting connected on eSIM directly on your device is like your experience with Spotify: more choice, there immediately when you need it and all on your device. The old process of getting a plastic SIM from a store seems more from a bygone age when we had to buy music on a plastic CD from a store.
How will eSIM change the way we consume connectivity in the next five years?
eSIM will give consumers more choice and flexibility about the way they get connected. I can imagine future users having multiple eSIMs on the same device, for the different situations in their life, such as work and personal, and home and abroad. I think there will be many reasons to have multiple providers of connectivity on your phone that you can simply manage through an app. Being locked into one provider for several years limits both choice and innovation.
What are the biggest drivers of demand: consumers, manufacturers or mobile operators themselves?
We have seen a fantastic reaction from our customers using eSIM. They love the ease of use and flexibility of eSIM. It might take some time and education for consumers to realise there’s a better option than the plastic SIM, but I’m confident they will begin to demand eSIM from their providers. Of course, if the device makers remove the SIM slot and use this space for more innovative technology, then this will create even more pull from the market to switch to eSIM.
To fulfil this demand, MNOs need a remote SIM provisioning platform that lets them rapidly roll out support for eSIM-enabled devices. It needs to connect users to their network instantly, reducing attrition, minimising SIM fulfilment costs and allowing them to create new experiences for their customers. Truphone is providing that digital-first service to operators.
How fast will the eSIM market grow over the next five years?
eSIM can’t be retrofitted to existing devices, so it’s going to expand at a rate dictated by the number of new devices that include eSIM. We saw Apple launch the first iPhone eSIM devices a year ago, so you could call this point zero. A year on and Truphone is downloading thousands of profiles a day to devices all over the world. But this is only the very beginning. Apple just launched a second range of iPhones with eSIM, effectively doubling the eSIM market for smartphones. This is going to continue to accelerate.
Truphone also runs its own global network. Has this given you a particular advantage when developing SIM technology?
As well as being an eSIM technology company, providing the platform that distributes these digital eSIMs to devices over-the-air, we are also a network operator, so we can actually provide a mobile service to these eSIMs and get first-hand experience and reaction from the market. Truphone was the first operator to launch an app to buy a plan and download an eSIM so having both technologies really gives us the ability to innovate quickly.
What are the biggest obstacles to making eSIM the ‘new normal’ and how is Truphone driving that change?
Truphone realises that this shift from physical SIM to digital SIM creates huge challenges for operators as it changes many of their processes that they’ve been running for so many years. So Truphone is providing its own technology to operators to get them fully operational and ready for this new market. Truphone developed its own SIM-provisioning platform that can be easily and quickly integrated with any operator around the world, enabling them to attract new customers who want to use eSIM.
How safe is eSIM compared to the plastic SIM card we’re all used to?
Over the past ten years, the GSMA has worked with companies around the world to create a global standard for eSIM that builds on the existing security of removable SIM cards. Whilst you may not be able to touch and feel an eSIM, customers can be confident that their mobile communications and data are safe. eSIM has some distinct security advantages over existing SIM cards in that an eSIM can be managed remotely and kept up to date to protect against the latest security vulnerabilities.
Are there any other practical applications of remote provisioning, perhaps beyond mobile connectivity?
The SIM card is about identity, a set of secure credentials stored digitally, much like bank cards or modern digital passports. What the eSIM does is allow these credentials to be deployed securely over the air, rather than in-store or via post—making the process more efficient and, crucially, scalable. As the level of security matches, if not exceeds, its physical predecessor, there is no reason these secure credentials can’t expand beyond connectivity.
That said, the priority right now has to be where the global regulations have been agreed and are in place. Thanks to the GSMA, remote provisioning for connectivity is the biggest opportunity for network operators and device makers alike. The SIM card takes up close to a quarter of the potential space that manufacturers could be using to make batteries more efficient, devices faster and their internal systems more capable. As chipsets get smaller and more intuitive, device makers will claim back the space in their devices that they’ve dedicated to a stubborn piece of plastic since the 1990s.
Digital-first technology is part of a broader tide that is carrying with it almost every industry it allows for more frictionless transactions, better customer experiences and more efficient processes.