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How Can MNOs Benefit From E-SIMs?

A hot topic in the panels on 5G Roaming at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) conference was the developing market of E-SIMs, which are replacing Travel SIMs as the go-to choice for travel telecommunications [1].

Nitin Bhas discussed how E-SIMs are transforming the market of international connectivity.

What are Travel E-SIMs?

Travel SIMs are SIM cards that enable a user to receive and make calls when visiting (m)any country outside of their own country. The main reason behind buying a travel SIM card is to avoid roaming charges. It also saves users from buying the local SIM card in countries they travel to.

Even though MNOs offer local SIM cards for tourists usually called Tourist SIMs, which offer special plans and price tags that make them appealing, many users still choose travel SIMs instead.

A technology that's rivaling the travel SIM is the E-SIM. An E-SIM is not tied to any physical SIM card and works on the device's own chip. If a mobile device is "E-SIM enabled", the user can easily switch between SIM cards using only a mobile application. By installing an app, the user is able to upload a new SIM card to their phone without doing any physical operations.

The E-SIM has various advantages over a Travel SIM:

  • Since it's digital, users don't have to go through the hassle of acquiring a physical SIM card,

  • Since it can provide the user connectivity and a data package just by installing the app, it eliminates the necessity of removing the user's own SIM.

As E-SIMs offer the same capabilities as travel SIMs, the market is transforming towards increased E-SIM adoption.

How should MNOs approach E-SIMs and 5G Roaming?

To get the most of their travel connectivity strategies in the 5G era, MNOs should:

  • Innovate on the E-SIM front

  • Offer affordable E-SIM plans

  • Retain customer base by offering cheap deals through sub-brand (MVNO)

There are some important statistics that make these approaches necessary:

Travel SIM is an important technology that's widely used around the world, especially in certain Asian countries. Top users are, in decreasing order; Hong Kong, South Korea, China, and lastly the EU and the US. The Travel SIM market in these countries is hastily transforming into an E-SIM market. Major mobile device producers like Apple and Samsung are enabling E-SIM on their new devices.

Nitin Bhas predicts that the E-SIM market will soon hit $10 billion in value, with Roaming + E-SIM constituting a $30 billion market.

Mr.Bhas kindly provided us with further research from Kaleido Intelligence, which shows that the predicted growth to $10 billion by 2028 of the E-SIM market will constitute over 80% of total travel SIM spending in that year [2].

Kaleido Intelligence’s analysis also highlights the unprecedented growth rate the E-SIM market is currently experiencing. In 2023, the travel E-SIM market has grown by over 100% in spending. This growth is reflected in adoption rates, especially in Southeast Asia. Traveler E-SIM adoption has increased with a 3-digit percentage growth in countries like India, Brazil, China, Australia, and UAE, between 2021 to 2023.

As new E-SIM providers pop up, it's important for MNOs to innovate on this front, and pair it with their 5G Roaming strategy to create an equally profitable travel connectivity deal.

Another thing to consider about E-SIM adoption is the tendency of travel E-SIM customers to choose the cheapest option on the market. Nitin Bhas mentions that the customer base of the E-SIM is extremely price-dependent, "Brand loyalty is not a thing when buying travel connectivity" said Bhas in his talk at the MEF event. This insight is also reflected in Kaleido Intelligence’s analysis of E-SIM adoption trends.

This means that MNOs should strive to offer the cheapest prices for their E-SIMs to generate revenue from this technology. If they do not want to mess up their well-paying, loyal customer base, they can serve deals through sub-brands and MVNOs instead.

E-SIM Growth Calls for MNO’s Focus

In summary, as 5G standards are developing around the world and MNOs build up strong 5G Roaming frameworks, they shouldn't miss out on an equally important technology that can "make it or break it" when it comes to travel connectivity.


[1]“MEF CONNECTS Wholesale - MEF,” MEF, Oct. 05, 2023.

[2]R. Clement, “eSIM Aggregators Reshape Traditional Roaming, Propelling the Travel SIM Market to $10 billion by 2028,” Kaleido Intelligence, Aug. 01, 2023.


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