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eSIM and a New Generation of Wireless APIs

Connectivity is becoming a critical necessity of our day-to-day life. The need to be always connected has been amplified by COVID-19. Whether it is remote work, telehealth, online education, mobile banking, or online shopping, most human activities today are happening online and the first “prerequisite” for such activities is wireless connectivity. Add to that a multitude of emerging smart devices – referred to as consumer internet of things (IoT) – connectivity and wireless API’s become more centric to modern life. From smartphones to wearables to drones, more than 20 billion consumer devices are expected to be connected by 2024.

Consumer IoT & Cellular market
Figure 1 Consumer vs Industrial IoT (Source: GSMA, G+D)

While fixed broadband (esp. Wi-Fi) has been a primary source of indoor connectivity whether at home or office, cellular is still the dominant wireless broadband technology outdoors. Thanks to LTE and the upcoming 5G, over 42% of all connected devices are expected to be on cellular.

Cellular connectivity has been always impeded by a hardware element required to provision the service: “SIM card”. SIM cards made it hard to distribute and deliver cellular connectivity, especially as subscribers have been restricted to one provider by a single SIM slot on most devices. With the introduction of embedded SIM (eSIM), a new world of fully digital cellular connectivity is made possible using eSIM QR codes and activation codes (Fig. 2). Besides the fact that mobile users can now get cellular data services digitally and instantly in few clicks from different providers, now the online sales & distribution of cellular connectivity has become much easier than ever. Today literally any online business, web, or mobile app can bundle cellular data eSIMs with their offerings to improve customer reach and engagement whether locally and/or globally.

Figure 2 SIM cards versus eSIM (Source: Celitech)

Standardized by the GSMA, eSIM is a built-in device feature introduced few years back in a variety of consumer devices like smartwatches, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Since 2018, Apple has released eSIM in all its iPhone models (except for those distributed in mainland China) and with iPhone 12 eSIM penetration in iOS devices is expected to reach 50% in 2021. Android and other devices are also picking up the eSIM feature rapidly, especially as Samsung and Huawei introduced eSIM in their flagship devices earlier in 2020. And as eSIM evolves to become an Integrated SIM (“iSIM”) feature in the main device processer (e.g. as a System-on-Chip), it’ll become a “defacto” default feature for consumer devices and appliances, especially low-cost smartphones.

eSIM – and the digital possibilities it brings to cellular connectivity – is paving the way for a new generation of REST and https-based API’s, giving reliable and secure access to cellular networks around the globe. In a similar manner to how web and mobile developers use mobile API’s to add virtual numbers with VoIP calling and texting features to their applications, with eSIM and wireless API's now it is possible to bundle and/or offer cellular data services with any web service or mobile app using QR codes (i.e. base64 strings turned into images) or activation codes. Such value-add connectivity can be sourced using wireless API’s to be either sponsored or sold online to consumers, as a complimentary or ancillary service.

The use cases for online businesses and apps to sponsor or offer cellular service via eSIMs include:

  1. Marketing data: e.g. to improve user loyalty or customer acquisition, or upsell new products, whether locally or globally
  2. Backup connectivity: e.g. to offer it as backup alternative to Wi-Fi for remote work and apps such as telehealth, EdTech, fintech, or transactional apps
  3. Multi-device service: e.g. to offer an affordable alternative for users to get their new devices (e.g. tablets, laptops, watches) connected on-demand and without monthly commitment
  4. International travel: e.g. to allow users to be connected while overseas without overspending on roaming, and to possibly offer in-destination services
  5. Secure remote connectivity: e.g. to offer it as an alternative to unsecure public Wi-Fi for remote employees or app-based workers
  6. Digital divide mitigation: e.g. to allow the 25% of Americans who do not have wireless broadband or the 3 billion disconnected people globally to get efficient and affordable access to the internet

While eSIM API’s are in early stages, such wireless API’s expected to gain momentum with the rapid growth of consumer IoT and penetration of eSIM in smart devices. Add to that the evolution of 5G, edge and cloud computing, wireless API’s are expected to offer the developer community a new “gateway” for innovation using wireless connectivity.

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