On July 15, 2020, MTN launched its eSIM (embedded-SIM) service in Nigeria. During a virtual launch, Mazen Mroue, Chief Operating Officer, MTN Nigeria, explained the idea behind this, the technicality of activation on devices, and possible connectivity with other smart devices.

“Unlike physical SIMs, eSIMs are built into smartphones, devices, and wearables. They support multiple profiles and allow customers to connect multiple numbers to their eSIM devices.

“Notwithstanding the sophistication of eSIMs, the onboarding requirements are the same as required for a physical SIM. Hence, SIM registration, in line with existing regulatory prescriptions, remains a requirement for activating a device embedded with an eSIM,” Mroue explained.

However, for the next year, only 5000 subscribers can enjoy the service as it is still in the trial stage.

How eSIM works

The eSIM, launched globally in 2016, is the next generation of SIM cards after Nano SIMs which were launched in 2012. Interestingly, SIM card evolution has generally reflected miniaturization.

eSIMs are embedded in smartphones, smart devices, and PCs so there’s no physical card involved. A tiny chip is installed directly in the device system supported with embedded software.

For this reason, the software can only be activated remotely by a cellular network carrier, like telcos. Subscriber data, which is programmed into an eSIM during the registration process, can be reprogrammed to another network provider later.

This means roaming on a local network outside the country might no longer be necessary because switching networks will be easier.

During the first step of the activation process, compatible phones are used to scan a QR code assigned to the eSIM. As part of the requirements, the telco will have to provide a user interface for the subscriber, probably in the form of an app.

Globally, only a few countries support the eSIM services. Incidentally, even fewer phone brands have this software on some of their devices. On the list are Google, Apple, Samsung, Huawei, NUU Mobile, Microsoft, Lenovo, and a few PC brands.

Probably as a way of checking eSIM compatibility on Android phones, Google has an eSIM manager app on the Play Store which shows whether a phone has the software. An alternative is to visit any designated MTN service center to confirm.

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