A woman operates a smartphone, above which lies a simulated digital network with many nodes
#Connectivity & IoT

The green SIM is the eSIM

6 Mins.

In 1991, G+D manufactured the world’s first SIM card in Munich, Germany. The introduction of the SIM was revolutionary: for the first time, a customer could move between subscription devices.

Today, SIM cards are an integral part of mobile communications. But as the telecommunications industry strives to make the world more sustainable, while simultaneously offering consumer convenience and flexibility, the humble SIM card is set to be replaced.

In 2020, the telecommunications industry contributed 2.6% to global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ (ETNO) Association.1 Although the sector isn’t the biggest culprit when it comes to waste production and emissions, there is definitely the potential to make processes and materials more sustainable.

The United Nations estimates that around 40 million tons of electronic waste is generated annually, and 80% of this heads straight to landfills.2 Alongside mobile phones, cables, and batteries, SIM card production is a substantial contributor to plastic waste in the telecommunications industry, and that is despite its tiny size – each SIM card needs to be punched out of a credit-card sized plastic sheet, which is then disposed of.

With consumers using ever more SIM cards – switching providers, replacing lost or damaged SIM cards, or for temporary subscriptions, for example – waste is increasing. While industry moves toward the use of recycled plastic SIM cards are a step in the right direction, other solutions can further decrease environmental impact. The move from traditional SIM cards to eSIMs – the greenest SIMs – will help mobile network operators meet their sustainability targets.

Why choose the eSIM?

Bare female feet on a lawn, next to them are a tablet and a smartphone showing 'eSIM'.

There are a range of benefits in using an eSIM as opposed to a traditional SIM card. Firstly, there are significant environmental benefits. CO2 output is greatly reduced – and it is worth considering the extent of this reduction.

Not only is plastic waste minimized if the SIM card goes fully digital, but also the entire production process, from plastic sourcing to distribution, is eliminated. This creates a chain of savings:

  • No raw materials: eSIMs don’t require any plastic, as the SIM chips are soldered into the device directly.
  • No packaging waste: eSIMs are digital, removing the need for bulky packaging.
  • No logistics footprint: materials are taken to production sites, and plastic SIM cards are distributed across the world, mostly by air. With the eSIM, physical logistics are greatly reduced.
  • No sales footprint: MNOs can sell eSIMs digitally and so there is no need for a customer to travel to a shop. Instead the eSIM can be ordered online.
  • No bulky devices: an eSIM requires far less space than a traditional SIM card, meaning devices can be leaner and SIM card holders are rendered obsolete.

Besides the considerable environmental benefits, consumers will benefit too. The obvious gain is that there is no need for consumers to tinker around with  small pieces of plastic – a frustrating consumer experience for some. With an eSIM, consumers don’t have to worry about the SIM being the right size. Mobile contracts can be activated digitally and quickly – and there is no need to wait for a SIM card to arrive in the mail either. If a user has multiple SIM cards but just one device, an eSIM removes the irritation of having to swap over SIM cards.

A growing market

The eSIM market is growing.3 By the end of 2020, over 175 mobile carriers had launched commercial eSIM services for smart phones across 69 countries. Momentum is picking up, which is good news for MNOs keen to reduce their carbon footprint and introduce this cutting-edge technology on a wider scale. However, as the recent GSMA Intelligence report highlighted, communication is key if eSIM is to be embraced by the masses.

“The environmental benefits of eSIM are significant. Now it’s a question of improving communication surrounding eSIM so that it can be adopted on a larger scale.“
Steffen Frenck
Head of Strategy & Marketing, G+D Mobile Security

The future is green

For MNOs, the gains that come with environmental consciousness are many, and drives to reduce waste and CO2 emissions have wide-ranging benefits, both for the company and for the consumer. Global consumers are increasingly seeking companies that are more environmentally conscious, and with this global drive toward environmental friendliness, eSIM is a viable alternative to traditional plastic SIM cards.

Moreover, the advantages of the eSIM don’t stop at its eco-friendliness. There are also numerous consumer benefits that make it a simpler and more flexible alternative to the physical SIM card. It enables fully digital and convenient user journeys, which bring added value for consumers.

  1. Connectivity & Beyond: How Telcos Can Accelerate a Digital Future for All, ETNO, March 2021

  2. UN report: Time to seize opportunity, tackle challenge of e-waste, United Nations, January 2019

  3. eSIM: State of the consumer market and the road ahead, GSMA, March 2021

Published: 31/08/2021

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