How eSIM will minimize the digital divide

Digital Divide

The digital divide is effectively the gap that exists between people who are able to benefit from the internet (e.g. for higher productivity, remote work, online education, etc.) and those who are not. Today over 49% of households globally 25% of Americans don’t have broadband (i.e. internet connection that can run video content). While internet has been critical to modern life, 2020 and its associated pandemic made it even more critical. As a new feature in a various consumer devices, embedded SIM (eSIM) is providing mobile consumers with more accessible and affordable wireless connectivity. Accordingly eSIM is expected to help minimizing the digital divide.

Digital divide in numbers
Fig. 1 The Digital Divide in numbers

Broadband penetration ranges from 89% in high-income countries to as low as 10% in low-income countries. While many have managed to live without broadband for long, the new norm of remote “everything” is leaving disconnected people behind by limiting their access to opportunities. Whether it is learning, working, shopping or doing business , in today’s world if you are online, you exist.

As online content has evolved from text to images to video, internet connectivity is following path. Basic internet access is not sufficient anymore. Consumers need broadband internet to be able to access the most common online content which is video-based. To illustrate with numbers, Intel estimates that over 90% of 5G traffic will be video. And while fixed broadband made progress with cable and fiber to home, its adoption is still not yet 21st century “compatible”. Fixed broadband can be expensive to deploy especially in remote and rural areas.

In the other hand, wireless broadband provided by cellular networks (e.g. 4G, LTE, and 5G) has been making faster progress. Actually many countries and regions around the globe skipped fixed networks and leaped directly to wireless broadband as a more effective alterative. Accordingly as shown in the figure above, the real connectivity gap is 47% if we take into consideration mobile and wireless broadband. So Wireless is providing some hope, and eSIM will amplify such hope by allowing digital distribution and on-demand activation of connectivity.

Historically wireless has been distributed through expensive retail channels, using hardware element (i.e. “SIM card”). eSIM will make such distribution more cost efficient by moving it totally online. Now consumers are able to go online to buy a suitable plan and immediately receive it as a QR code. Using the QR code, the user can activate the wireless plan in few clicks on any eSIM-enabled device. This digital process enables users to consume connectivity in a different manner as now it can be acquired totally on demand, without the need to go to shop or wait for the SIM Card mail. With eSIM, consumers that need one-off and real-time connectivity can get wireless broadband, and don’t have to commit for monthly or annual plans to connect their secondary devices.

It is still a bit early for eSIM to bridge the digital divide gap today. But as its penetration expands towards low-cost devices it will have a much higher impact. Actually eSIM is evolving to become an integrated SIM (iSIM) of the main device processor. So it will become more economic to deploy, and we’ll see it as a default feature in more affordable consumer devices similar to Bluetooth and NFC. With Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Microsoft, Google, HP, among others already including eSIM in their devices, the positive impact of eSIM on digital divide could come sooner than later.

Celitech offers an eSIM API, enabling businesses and apps to offer cellular data through eSIMs. If you’re interested to check how eSIM can improve your mobile reach and engagement, contact us today to learn more.

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