Why Apple SIM is not the Enterprise Mobility Solution that CIOs are Looking for

Enterprise

There was excitement over Apple’s recent announcement that the cellular-enabled model of its iPad Air 2 will come with a SIM card provided by Apple. Issued by mobile carriers or their resellers, SIM cards do what their long name – Subscriber Identification Module – suggest: verify the identity of a subscriber so that carriers can route calls and offer the right service to it. In practice, SIM cards are used by carriers to lock its customers to them, which is why some observers have hailed the Apple SIM as a big boon for consumers that could herald the beginning of the end of SIM cards themselves.

carsten brinkschulte pic

Such predictions may be premature, according to Carsten Brinkschulte, (left) Senior Vice-President for Enhanced Network Services at BlackBerry. He was CEO of Movirtu, a UK company that provides virtual SIM technology that was acquired by BlackBerry this summer. Brinkschulte agreed to share his insight into what the Apple SIM really does and doesn’t offer, how it differs from what BlackBerry can provide, and how Apple SIM doesn’t solve the problems facing today’s CIOs overrun by BYOD – which BlackBerry does.

What does the Apple SIM actually provide – and not provide?

An Apple SIM lets end users switch carriers, enabling subscribers to buy a data plan from their iPad. No more swapping SIMs, right? Indeed, today, the Apple SIM is an innovative solution for U.S. consumers looking to comparison shop among cellular data providers when they buy a new iPad. It may someday be a good solution for non-U.S. consumers, as well as for international travelers wanting to avoid hefty data roaming charges.

Notice I said someday. The number of carriers offering plans with Apple SIM today is tiny – three in the U.S., and one in the UK. Verizon notwithstanding, Apple will probably add more carriers over time. But today, your choices are limited. Apple’s approach is marginalizing the carriers and it is not a surprise that they are already starting to rebel. In contrast, our approach is to work with the carriers, not against them, and enable innovative services to be offered by the carriers.

As for data: the most obvious thing missing from an Apple SIM is support for conventional mobile voice or SMS text messaging services. Of course, via data-based services such as Skype or BBM, you can make calls and send messages. But I suspect most of you are like me, making most of your calls using your mobile number, not over-the-top (OTT) services. An Apple SIM simply isn’t designed to support conventional voice and SMS well, which I’ll explain why later. That limits its revolutionary impact.

And that gets to my key point: the Apple SIM doesn’t overthrow the dominant system today of carrier-issued SIMs for smartphones. It’s offered only with iPads and doesn’t come as an option for any of the iPhones, including the latest 6/6+. You could probably take an Apple SIM out of your iPad and put it into any iPhone 5 or later. But without support for voice calls and text messaging, why would you?

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Replacing physical SIM cards with multiple virtual SIMs – not Apple SIM – can make life easier for individuals and employees and protect customers and sales for companies.

Why doesn’t Apple SIM support conventional voice calls and text messages?

From what we know, the Apple SIM is based on an emerging telecommunications standard called eUICC or eSIM. This is a GSMA standard pioneered by vendors that you probably haven’t heard of – Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient.

eUICC and eSIM were designed primarily for use with data only. That’s because when you switch carriers using an eUICC/eSIM such as the Apple SIM, you also get assigned a new MSISDN. That’s a complicated acronym that essentially means: You will get a new mobile phone number every time you change carriers using an Apple SIM. That’s not what users would expect when using an Apple SIM with their phone.

So Apple SIM is the first major implementation of an emerging technology. But as it stands today, it doesn’t fit with the needs of most businesses managing mobile employees.

So how does Apple SIM fall short for businesses?

Besides the fact that the Apple SIM is tablet/data-only and is only available in two countries today, it doesn’t address two, closely-related business needs: the ability to simultaneously manage multiple user identities on a phone, and the ability to manage telecom expenses.

With the advent of the BYOD megatrend, enterprises are facing new challenges which are not addressed by today’s enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions. EMM and mobile device management (MDM) solutions do a great job at securing data and enforcing policies on mobile devices, but they do not manage user identities, which is a gaping hole.

Say your top salesperson leaves to join a competitor. She was using her personal phone for work. Not only can she take corporate data with her, but if clients try to contact your company, they’ll probably call her cellphone, letting her happily greet and entice away your customers. The potential loss of business could be more damaging than losing data from your employee’s phone.

Or let’s say your employee brings in his iPhone from home and uses it half for business and half for personal. How do you differentiate between the two, besides requiring employees to file expense reports? If you want to avoid that laborious dance, then how do you reimburse your employees for work usage of their BYOD devices? This is a growing issue. Indeed, it’s already that companies are required to reimburse employees for corporate use of mobile devices (in particular for phone calls).

Companies that don’t want to process expense reports typically offer stipends; paying a fixed amount to employees opting for BYOD. That’s not ideal because stipends tend to over-pay employees and, in many jurisdictions, may be considered taxable benefits to employees.

What businesses need is something that creates multiple, separate identities on the device in order to automatically separate communications costs. One could be for work, one for personal. These identities must include separate phone numbers for voice calls, texting and data. And the identities – at least the work ones – must be controllable by the enterprise.

Actually, consumers can also benefit from multiple identities. Let’s say you want to sell your car online, but are hesitant about posting your regular cellphone number on the ad, for fear of getting spam ads and 2 AM calls from zealous buyers.

Movirtu – now part of BlackBerry – offers virtual SIM solutions for both businesses and consumers, enabling multiple, simultaneously active SIMs, allowing subscribers to create multiple identities and precisely manage their communications expenses. On November 13th, look for us to share more about solutions in that area.

It’s possible that SIM cards may disappear someday, and Apple SIM may have a hand in that. But most users – both consumers and businesses – will benefit more from something that doesn’t try to replace your existing SIM card, but augments it with an ability to create and manage mobile identities. That’s what we provide.

About Eric Lai

I have written about technology and mobility for Computerworld, ZDNet, Forbes and others. I oversee the blogs and social content here at BlackBerry and continue to track and opine about the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. Follow me on Twitter (ericylai)

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