The new Motorola Razr has created quite some buzz since it was unveiled last week. But this new phone is pushing the envelope not just with its foldable screen. In fact, the new Motorola Razr will be sold with an eSIM-only configuration, making it the first phone to ditch the physical SIM card slot entirely.
For some, this is the latest sign that eSIM technology is the area where major smartphone brands see a lot of potential and the launch of the new Motorola Razr is just the beginning. While the Google Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro also support eSIMs, they come with the physical SIM option as well. The new Razr, on the other hand, completely forgoes a traditional SIM card slot and that is unique.
Global shipments of eSIM capable devices (including for vehicles) grew 63 per cent year-on-year last year to 364 million units and is estimated to reach close to 2 billion units in shipments by 2025, according to research firm Counterpoint. More manufacturers like Xiaomi, Huawei, Samsung, and Vivo are expected to start launching smartphones with a built-in eSIM.
“In the next 18 months you will have all the leading manufacturers launching high-end smartphones with eSIM,” Deval Sheth, Managing Director, Giesecke & Devrient India, told indianexpress.com in an interview. The German company, credited with developing the first SIM card in the 1990s, has evolved into a leading name in eSIM technology. Sheth says he expects at least 20 to 30 per cent of smartphones in the next two to three years will be eSIM enabled.
eSIM, or “embedded subscriber identity module”, is basically an electronic version of the standard SIM card that exists today. SIM cards, including eSIMs, have two basic functions — to connect and identify devices on cellular networks. But while a physical SIM card is “hardwired” to a mobile carrier (say, Airtel or Vodafone), the eSIM is a chip soldered directly onto the circuit board of the smartphone. Unlike a physical SIM, an eSIM is “remotely provisioning”, allowing users to remotely change and activate the SIM profile embedded on a device. So once your smartphone is eSIM-enabled, you have an option to switch to any telecom operator without changing the physical SIM card. The unnecessary hassles users face while switching to a new carrier provider will thus be a thing of the past.
Perhaps the real advantage of using an eSIM-enabled device is how users could have multiple operators profiles stored in the eSIM for different services. An eSIM is also beneficial for travellers, who can switch to the local network operator – therefore avoiding roaming charges.
The ecosystem is shaping up to the idea that eSIMs have an advantage over physical SIM cards. The use of eSIMs, however, extends beyond the convenience factor. With eSIMs, it is now possible to design smartphones with thinner and lighter profiles, given there is no need for physical SIM slots. The new Razr, when shut, has a thickness of 14mm. The lack of a physical SIM slot might have played a crucial role in the new Motorola Razr’s extremely thin design. Interestingly, the new Motorola Razr is the only foldable phone that has a water-resistant nano-coating, making it splash-proof. The Samsung Galaxy Fold, on the other hand, is neither slim or light as the new Motorola Razr nor has a water-repellent design.
But the credit for popularising the eSIM has to go to the Apple watch’s LTE versions. In fact, smartwatches will be a big growth area for eSIMs along with automobiles. Some of the top automobile makers like BMW, Audi and Mercedes support eSIMs enabling real-time traffic information and remote assistance on the go. In India, MG Hector and Hyundai Venue support eSIMs for cellular connectivity. Connected laptops are another emerging category that significantly favours the proliferation of eSIMs.
However, the industry has shown resistance to an eSIM powered mobile ecosystem. The telecom operators, in particular, oppose the concept and just a handful support them, including Airtel and Reliance Jio in India. Many fear the acceptance of eSIMs would negatively impact their businesses, as users can change their service provider easily, without changing devices without even needing a new SIM card. The manufacturers in mainland China and South Korea too have not played ball and could be crucial in how big the trends end up being.
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