Visitors experience a reflective mirror at the du pavilion during the Gitex Technology Week. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Apple’s iPhone fans will be able to use the eSIM (embedded SIM) technology in the UAE by end of this month, telecom operators have confirmed to Gulf News.

An eSIM is a digital SIM that allows users to activate a cellular plan from a carrier, without having to use a physical SIM.

When Apple launched its iPhone XS and XS MAX in the UAE on September 21, the eSIM support was available in the UAE.

But now, customers will be able to activate the eSIM facility by end of this month, only for iPhones.

“The set-up for eSIM is different for the watch and the phone. For the watch, there is an additional component to be implemented and the infrastructure to integrate the watch,” Saleem Al Beloushi, chief infrastructure officer at Du, told Gulf News.

Moreover, he said that eSIM support for Apple Watch will be ready by the first quarter of next year.

Etisalat already supports eSIM for the Apple Watch. The telecom operator was not available for comments when asked about the eSIM support for the iPhone, but an industry expert said that both operators will support the facility by the month’s end.

There are talks in the industry that handset providers will have more control over a customer with eSIM than a telecom operator, as the SIM is the one that binds a telecom operator with a customer.

The SIM card on a phone allows a mobile operator to identify and authenticate a consumer, which in turn gives the consumer access to the mobile network to for calls and data.


Video by Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Al Beloushi said that the control of ‘SIM supply management’ will go to Apple, but telecom operators will still have their profiles on the SIM. With eSIM, it can have multiple operators’ profiles on it, he said.

However, he said the advantage will be more for end users to switch between operators seamlessly. “There is a possibility that all handset providers will have more control of the eSIM than the operators and they can charge and monetise the control of the SIM by charging the operators per connection. From the operators’ perspective, that is the worst case scenario.

“With eSIM, it will also pressurise telecom operators to slash call and data rates and if they don’t, they will be left behind,” he said.

5G coming soon

Meanwhile, Al Beloushi said that du will launch 5G in the UAE in the first quarter of next year.

5G is the evolution of 4G, with a faster download speed and with a latency [delay that happens in data communication over a network] of one millisecond compared to between 15 and 20 milliseconds with 4G.

“Whatever announcements made on 5G so far is all pre-standard. We have tested our network with pre-standards and it is ready for 5G. The only missing element is the CPE [customer premises equipment] wireless router and it is not available now.

For example, he said the Huawei CPE will not work currently with Ericsson or Nokia networks and vice versa.

“These are based on non-standard CPE, but the standard CPE will be interoperable and available in the first quarter of next year. 5G will initially be launched on fixed line network with CPE and then it depends on the acceleration in handsets,” he said.

He added that Du’s fixed line footprint is around 10-15 per cent of the country and 5G will be an enabler for fixed roll-out. “With 5G, we can go up to 10Gbps. We reached almost 2Gbps in our testing. The bandwidth capacity on 4G is still not fully utilised and the additional value of 5G will mainly be for connected devices and latency use cases,” he said.

With network sharing agreement between telecom operators in the UAE, he said that du will have more business opportunities with 5G and the competitive advantage is that “we are expanding to the other 85 per cent”.

“The advantage of 5G will for the Internet of Things, AR, VR and drones due to the low latency. Traditional business will help in the initial implementation of 5G, but more value will be in the use cases that will improve the life of people in the cities and government and companies’ services,” he said.