6 unforgettable lessons from a SIM card industry veteran

 

SIM

The end of the year is always an opportunity to stop for a while and look back at the success achieved – particularly when you work for a company that recently celebrated its 10th birthday. On top of that, I’ve been working for 17 years in the SIM industry. I thought it’d be a good time to tell you about some of my best memories working in this exciting field.

1. My first-time SIM initiation

One of my first encounters with a SIM card dates from working as a salesperson for a mobile phone company. I worked there as a salesperson, primarily for SME customers, and witnessed how people were persuaded to move from a solid but pricey 1st-generation mobile service to a “bad coveraged” but cheaper cellular 2G/GSM service. SIM cards provided an affordable option for customers, expanding the reach of the mobile phone market. I didn’t realize at the time how much a tiny piece of plastic and electronics would change my life and others.

2. Customers first

A few years later, I started my career at France’s most exciting start-up, Gemplus (or, as it’s now known, Gemalto). As a member of the sales team, I’ve visited all sorts of countries and continents, meeting a diverse range of customers. I learned to listen to and respect the customer voice as my first and deepest market insight. I remember attending one conference in Cannes where the charismatic speaker, Mauro Sentinelli, MD of Telecom Italia (which created the prepaid SIM concept in 1996 in Italy, while TMN in Portugal created prepaid subscriptions a year before) and then Chairman of the GSM Association, stated “the SIM is the dash”.

3. Innovate, succeed, or fail fast

Innovation has been a defining characteristic of the telecom and SIM industries. At Gemalto, it’s key to everything we do. But finding the ideal compromise between creative ideas and valuable business concepts can be complex.

I particularly admire the speed at which the smart card industry has developed. It began with a GSM standard compliant smart card that providers secure user and network authentication. Relying first on native OS, it then adopted JavaCard as an open OS to provide the “write once, run anywhere” promise for the SIM Tool Kit apps embedded in the SIM. Then came the time for SIM-based client / server applications based on their original SIM cards assets (OTA/Over-The-Air platform, roaming management, mobile marketing, device management, phonebook contact backup….). Later on, a strong focus on services definitely changed our DNA.

The key lesson I’ve learned is that there needs to be a balance between co-operation and competition to achieve success. Cooperation includes R&D activities, promoting standards, design implementation and deploying smart card applications. Competition means capturing the largest share of the value created by the app. Striking the balance means more innovative and energetic companies.

I’m glad that innovation aspect has survived along the years. For example, SIM reactivation offers an unrivalled use case to operators to easily regain inactive prepaid users by allowing users to reuse their dormant SIM cards. It completely reshuffles cards for reacquiring lapsed prepaid users.

4. MVNO

Over my career, I’ve been lucky enough to experience various types of TV stations. When MVNO started to emerge, I quickly seized on the opportunity and became part of Gemalto’s MVNO team from its inception. I really enjoyed that period and met with lots of different clients. I attended all the major MVNO events in Europe, meeting pioneers across the industry. I quickly realized we were involved in the launch of about 160 MVNO worldwide.

The key lesson here is an ambitious approach to MVNOs can drive global success. Today, the story is continuing to develop and Gemalto has established itself as a key player in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

5. Creation of Gemalto

Consolidations across various industries has changed the face of the mobile industry, especially SIM cards. It wasn’t surprising to see the nature of the change on December 7 2005, when Gempus and Axalto announced their merge. There were some initial fears, but we soon realized that it would enable us to become a key player in the industry. Other promising areas have arisen, such as e-SIM and 5G, which looks set to revolutionize the telecom world even further.

6. Facebook for SIM: hello social networks…

It soon became apparent that Facebook would be a revolutionary force and I was fortunate enough to work with the company. Since its inception, the social network has transformed the way we use our smartphones, both from a professional and personal perspective.

In conclusion, it’s clear the SIM card industry has been transformed over the last 20 years or so. I realize I could bid for the title of “SIM card veteran” – but don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a sense of nostalgia – I’m looking ahead to the future!

What about you? What’s your best mobile SIM-related experience – either as part of the SIM industry or the wider telecom sector? I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section below, or at @GemaltoMobile.

I’d also be glad to connect with you on LinkedIn.

6 thoughts on “6 unforgettable lessons from a SIM card industry veteran

  1. Dear Sebastien,
    Thank you for this retrospective. I am glad that part of this your journey, we went together in same team. In whole SIM and smart card industry in past were a lot of excellent colleagues and partners and I can say that we were privileged to work in such exclusive industry.
    Wish you all the best in future and in this new opportunities for which you are looking for.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    All the best,
    Srdjan Djordjevic, CEO Dolphin Group

    1. Hi Srdjan,
      thanks for your kind message. Sometimes, looking backward allows us to understand how much we could could feel blessed to experience such paths. I hope yours again soon. 😉
      Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Sebastien. Nice blog. I wouldn’t call myself a veteran but I have been involved with MNOs and SIM packaging since 1996.

    Here are two questions for you:
    1. Isn’t the days of SIM packaging over given the negative effects of the packaging on the environment, especially in Africa? Why not sell the naked SIM as it it?
    2. What is the point of selling 128K SIM cards when the average subscriber does not save contacts on the SIM and the average phone has a lot more contact storage that a SIM?

  3. Hi Raymond,
    thanks for your feedback and your questions.
    It’s my sincere pleasure to answer them:

    1. Your question: Isn’t the days of SIM packaging over given the negative effects of the packaging on the environment, especially in Africa? Why not sell the naked SIM as it it?
    About the SIM packaging environmental & social impact, it’s a been a concern for many years already and a lot has been already done by SIM vendors:
    first, the SIM card form factor has evolved from its original ISO and then PlugIn/2G formats to adopt smaller and thinner card body sizes (i.e. MicroSIM/4FF – NanoSIM/4FF). Triple SIM form factor (i.e. Plugin/MicroSIM/NanoSIM represent 60% of the total SIM shipments in 2016, whereas 3FF and 4FF respectively account for 24% and 7% (source: SIMAlliance – http://simalliance.org/media/webinars/sim-market-insights-2016/ please refer to minute 20:47).
    Second, in terms of SIM packaging per se, the trend is definitely getting smarter and smaller packaging that value sustainability. New biodegradable materials are also used. SIM packaging is still required by mobile operators and MVNO: it prevents SIM damage during storage and transport; it faciliates SIM supply chain logistics management; it protects sensitive information printed on the SIM and reduces fraud; eventually it creates differentiation at the point of sales to attract consumers.
    Combined together, smaller SIM card bodies and packaging allow saving weight & storage space and contribute to lower transportation costs and reduce pollution.
    More information here: http://www.gemalto.com/mobile/packaging
    Selling naked SIM would create concerns for mobile operators in terms of logistics, fraud and marketing. It is thus more than likely that SIM packaging will continue to exist as long as SIM card exist.

    Surely the gradual adoption of eSIM and M2M (MIM) SIM cards in the years to come will increasingly contribute to a more eco-friendly world.

    2) Your question: What is the point of selling 128K SIM cards when the average subscriber does not save contacts on the SIM and the average phone has a lot more contact storage that a SIM?
    You’re right to mention the use of a SIM as a place where users can save their phone contacts. It’s still widely used across many countries, such in Africa. Surprisingly you still find 47% of the total worldwide connections that use feature phones and don’t use smartphones (source: GSMA Intelligence – Q2 2017: https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/research/?file=d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e&download). In those countries, users value a lot their phone contacts and are even to pay for a service to get their SIM-based phone numbers backed up remotely and available on request in case of loss of the handset (more information here: http://www.gemalto.com/mobile/id-security/m-protection/data-protection).
    Fortunately the SIM card can host many other user-focused (e.g. multi-IMSI [http://www.gemalto.com/mobile/networks/roaming/dual-imsi], i.e. different phone numbers with a unique SIM) and operator-centric applications (roaming steering management [http://www.gemalto.com/mobile/networks/roaming/steering-of-roaming], network quality monitoring [http://www.gemalto.com/mobile/networks/customer-experience/qos], etc….).

    Please let me if you have any comments or other questions.

    Regards

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