E Sim and the death of Roaming

Over the years and especially prior to the onset of Covid International roaming was a major cash cow for telecom operators. Whereas world over telcos struggled with dropping revenues and margin pressure, International roaming was a small niche which was relatively protected from such pressures.

Yes, undoubtedly the value derived from roaming packs increased but still roaming as a revenue line item has grown at break neck pace. Increased travel undoubtedly helped. But it’s the innovation in the space as incumbent telcos started seeing roaming as an area where quick wins can be achieved that made the biggest difference. Product managers got willing to look past the traditional thinking of milking the forlorn traveler. It was important to solve the problem of bill shocks and abominable call rates and focus on seamless activation, roam like home, unlimited packs, daily roam packs etc.

Post Covid Apocalypse

But what awaits the roaming business in the post Covid world? As international travel takes its own time to recover, the ruder shock might come in the form of new approaches to roaming itself.

The biggest reason why a tourist prefers to use roaming from their home carrier rather is to avoid the uncertainty of not being connected in the initial moments in the new country. What if I can’t find my cab driver; how do I navigate the transport system and get to the hotel; how do I use Google translate to read the signs?

Frequent business travelers don’t want to be bothered with managing multiple sim cards or the hazzle of swapping in and out sim cards as they change their location.

E sims give operators a way of activating roaming sim cards for users even before they land in the visiting country. Of course the regulations and the KYC (Know your customer) formalities has to be worked upon. But I would think with a valid visa and procedural controls enforeced by the visiting network, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge to issue an e-sim based connection to a traveler even before he/she actually lands in the country. The frequent traveler can save multiple e-sims for the countries that he travel to frequently in his phone and activate the one he needs within a minute. The tourist gets to enjoy unmatched tariffs which his home carrier will never be able to match with existing roaming arrangements.

A future travel scenario

Imagine I am traveling to Korea for the first time in the post Covid world. As soon as I complete get the visa on my passport, I would be able to login to the website of a Korean carrier and apply for a limited period connection using the evidence of my passport and the visa that has been provided. The e-sim QR code is delivered on my mail address and I can activate the same within minutes. As long as I am in my home country before I get into the plane, the service may provide only limited functionality. I, as a first time traveled can get into my flight with the reassurance that I wouldn’t be connectionless even for a minute, once I land at the Incheon International Airport.

Spin off Opportunities

The e-sim evolution also opens up great opportunities for intermediaries to provide roaming services. They maybe able to deliver services much more efficiently than carriers. They can help navigate the complexities of a website in an unfamiliar language or to help procure e-sims for multiple countries for a country hopping traveler. All said and done the roaming business is waiting a transformation. All for the better!


Vinu Mani Jose, currently working as Product Manager in one of India's Largest Integrated Telecommunications company, is a technophile and likes to track the developments of the telecommunications space closely.

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