Q&A: What are the available eSIM subscription activation methods?

A man activates eSIM on his mobile

The transformation of the traditional physical SIM card into a programmable chip that is embedded directly into a device has profoundly disrupted the subscription activation process. Now, MNOs must navigate the available eSIM subscription activation options to choose the one that can meet their own and their customers’ needs the best. 

What is the eSIM subscription activation challenge?

By 2025, 60 percent of smartphone unit sales will be eSIM-compatible, and between 2 and 3 billion smartphone connections worldwide will use eSIM, according to the GSMA Intelligence Operator Smartphone Survey 2020.

eSIM activated smartphones by 2025

By 2025 60% of smartphones will be eSIM activated

The number of operators offering eSIM services for smartphones surpassed 100 in 2019 and continues to grow. These operators have nearly 2 billion mobile connections in aggregate, representing over 25 percent of connections worldwide,
GSMA Intelligence

Consumer devices that possess eSIM technology for mobile connectivity can be activated using several different methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. 

Which eSIM subscription activation method requires the least backend unification?

The eSIM activation method that’s the easiest to integrate with existing infrastructures because it requires the least backend unification with systems and third parties (i.e., device manufacturer or GSMA) relies on unique QR codes, which can be digital or printed. When eSIM was first introduced a unique QR code was required for each activation. Nowadays, generic or universal QR codes can be used that then direct the user to their own unique activation link. 

Workz’s Universal QR code

Universal QR code eSIM activation method | Workz

The QR code contains the address of the Remote SIM Provisioning system (SM-DP+ eSIM subscription management server within the GSMA specifications), which allows the device to connect to that system and securely download a SIM profile. Once the profile is installed and activated, the device is able to connect to that operator’s network. 

One of the biggest disadvantages of the QR code-based eSIM activation method is the fact that the activated device must have a camera to scan the QR code, and most companion devices, such as smartwatches, don’t have one. 

Activating eSIM with a QR code

Only devices with a camera can activate eSIM using a QR code

What other eSIM subscription activation methods are available?

The use of QR codes is an easily implementable eSIM subscription activation method, but alternatives are available, and they include pre-configured devices and Discovery Service-based activation.  

Pre-configured devices

By working hand in hand with device manufacturers, operators can sell consumer eSIM devices that are pre-configured with the address of their remote SIM provisioning platforms (SM-DP+) to automatically retrieve the correct network profiles when devices are launched for the first time.  

While providing a seamless activation process, this method introduces additional costs and limits the operator’s ability to maintain a competitive product inventory. 

Out-of-the-box connectivity

Finger slides across smartphone to activate eSIM

Discovery Service-based activation

Discovery Service-based activation, on the other hand, requires neither a camera or device customization. Currently, there are three types of Discovery Services in the market: GSMA’s Root Discovery Service which is intended to eventually be a comprehensive directory of all MNOs, Apple’s Lookup Service for Apple devices, and custom discover services built specifically for the MNO. GSMA charge for its service and there is also a one-off development cost for custom built services, however, Apple does not currently charge operators for it’s Lookup Service. 

For all these options, the activated device automatically connects to the discovery service when switched on for the first time to download the corresponding eSIM profile, providing a seamless user experience that’s straightforward to integrate with the operator’s SM-DP+.

eSIM activation options

Infographic of different eSIM discovery services MNOs can provide subscribers

The winners are those who adapt to market needs quickly

As eSIM becomes mass market and OEMs like Apple employ it as the sole means for connectivity, we expect telcos to invest more on user-friendly activation experiences and faster, easier digital experiences to be widely available. As a result, MNOs must move fast to choose the best-suited eSIM subscription activation method based for them and their growing eSIM subscriber base.

To learn more about the available eSIM subscription activation methods for telcos, please contact us below. 

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