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#Connectivity & IoT

eSIM or pluggable SIM: which is the greener choice

4 Mins.

As the creator of the first commercial SIM card back in 1991 and a pioneer of embedded SIM (eSIM) technology, G+D has long suspected that the all-digital, programmable eSIM has a significantly lower environmental impact than its traditional physical counterpart, the pluggable SIM. But the company was determined to put that to the test and present some compelling evidence.

G+D has a stated mission to continuously make its product portfolio even more sustainable, with a goal to generate 75% of its revenue from green products by 2040.

Demonstrating that commitment in the area of connected devices, the company recently commissioned Fraunhofer IZM, the renowned applied and industrial contract research institute, to undertake an independent life cycle assessment that compared the environmental impact of pluggable SIM cards with that of eSIMs, the fully digital equivalents that are now embedded in over a billion connected devices, from smartphones to connected cars.1 To ensure impartiality, the research results also were reviewed by an external panel.

Comparing the environmental impact of these two formats is not an insignificant task. The manufacturing processes, logistics, associated services, and disposal practices all differ considerably, and have to be provided by a number of companies across a broad ecosystem.

In the case of G+D SIM cards, the smart cards (that will hold the unique data used to identify and authenticate a mobile subscriber) are manufactured at the company’s advanced production facilities using ABS or recycled-PVC plastics, before they enter the complex supply chains of mobile network operators. With eSIMs, service partners such as G+D enable the management of virtual profiles, including their provisioning to a customer’s device.

Comparing environmental impacts

To put the two forms to the test across their complete life cycles, the environmental impacts were considered for a single user over a three-year period, corresponding to the typical use of a consumer smartphone.

The Fraunhofer IZM team examined the raw materials and resources used in SIM production, the transport routes, and the use phases of the products, from registration right through to disposal. The ISO-compliant life cycle assessment also looked at associated components in the end device that are needed to support SIM functionality, such as the SIM tray that holds the smart card in place, the phone’s SIM connector into which the SIM tray slots, the power supply, and related printed circuit board surfaces.

The result was unambiguous: across a full product life cycle, the study showed that the use of an eSIM generates 46% less CO2 emissions than a SIM card: 123 g CO2 versus 229 g CO2 equivalent (eq.).

Comparison of CO2 emissions for eSIM and SIM

For the SIM card, 59% of emissions occur during production, while transport, usage, end-device hardware, and disposal account for 41% of the emissions. With no physical distribution or manufacturing processes, the eSIM had few material requirements. In the case of the eSIM, only 2% of CO2 emissions occur during production; it also had zero emissions for transportation. The remaining 98% are due to downstream activities, as the eSIM chip is installed in the mobile device by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Other measures were also favorable for eSIM, including end-of-life disposal, where a traditional SIM accounted for 8 g of CO2 eq. and eSIM approximately 1 g.

Comparison CO2 eSIM and SIM emissions life cycle

“The results of the study show the environmental impact reduction potential of eSIM as a connectivity solution,” says David Sánchez, research associate at Fraunhofer IZM. “Particularly noteworthy here is the savings potential in CO2 emissions by reducing the necessary distribution and additional hardware of the eSIM solution compared to the SIM card.”

What the data also emphasizes is that eSIM is still a relatively untapped source of lowered emissions. Jan Bock, head of Operations in G+D’s Connectivity and IoT Business, says, “The study underlines the importance of the eSIM for responsible mobile communications. Mobile operators and users can significantly reduce their CO2 emissions by using [such] cutting-edge technology.”

“Mobile operators and users can significantly reduce their CO2 emissions by using cutting-edge eSIM technology“
Jan Bock
Head of Operations in G+D’s Connectivity and IoT Business

The growth potential of eSIM

The market for eSIM solutions continues to grow rapidly, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA). By June 2022, more than 260 mobile service providers in 88 countries were offering commercial eSIM services for smartphones.2

The GSMA predicts there will be 850 million smartphone connections via eSIM by 2025, and a 6.7 billion worldwide by 2030. That corresponds to 76% of all smartphone connections.

Apple is at the forefront of this trend. It started offering eSIM capabilities with the iPhone XR in 2018, but the new iPhone 14 (launched in September 2022) represents something of a turning point. Its launch in the US market, where it went eSIM-only, saw the complete elimination of a SIM slot. Other manufacturers are expected to quickly follow that lead. And as eSIMs become even more widely deployed in industrial settings – from connected cars to smart factories – the environmental argument will only grow.

In 2021, the total available market from SIM cards was estimated at 4.35 billion units3, an activity that is reckoned to be responsible for generating more than 560,000 tons of CO2 and consuming more than 18,000 tons of plastic4. As the G+D and Fraunhofer IZM study show, the widespread adoption of eSIMs has the potential to eliminate a large proportion of that negative impact.

  1. eSIM Market Forecasts, 2021–2025, Juniper Research, 2021

  2. eSIM: market progress, consumer behaviour and adoption to 2030, GSMA, 2022

  3. Global adoption of eSIM technology 2021, Trusted Connectivity Alliance

  4. The eco-friendly SIM card, G+D

Published: 17/02/2023

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