Friday, 15 July 2011

The SIMs: unleashed

Some great chat in the office today about the relative merits of the SIM card. I rather boldy claimed that in 3 years no new smartphone on sale would have a SIM card, the technology having been replaced by software SIMs. Needless to say, this view was not universally agreed with! Advocates of mobile operators and mobile banking providers decided that the former would never agree to ship such devices as they disintermediate them and that the latter would hate them for security reasons.

I'm not so sure about either counter-argument, personally. The thing that hardware manufacturers really like about soft-SIM is that it makes it very easy to sell direct to the consumer - no messing about with holding stocks of SIMs, just choose the cheapest monthly deal, connect to iTunes or Android update and 20 seconds later the device is activated. Combined with 2 hour number portability, it really increases customer choice and disintermediates the service provider.

The trouble for operators is that consumers often churn because they can't get the handset they want (data from Deloitte's Mobile Consumer Survey shows that it's the primary reason behind about 20% of churn in developed markets, second only to "current operator too expensive").

Furthermore, operators face a classic Prisoners Dilemma in trying to prevent such devices coming to market: they can each individually decide not to subsidise, but they can't collude and if just one party "betrays" them by offering a subsidy (in the UK, it would likely be Three and/ or T-Mobile) then that party could uplift their market share enormously in just one quarter.

Finally, there's the dawning reality that consumers of smart, high-ASP devices seem increasingly willing to purchase without subsidy. A trend that can only accelerate if and when the EU regulates to prevent operators selling long contracts to consumers. I therefore don't think that there's much operators (in the EU, at least) can do to prevent soft-SIMs coming to market.

On security, I frankly don't buy the advantages of plug in SIMs. The handset electronics are what actually makes the content of the SIM secure, not the carrier vehicle itself and software m-payment systems are well established (I even used Paypal to pay for pizza last week...).

Anyway, you heard it here first - no SIM cards in 3 years...

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