An independent comparative lifecycle assessment (LCA) of SIM card and embedded SIM (eSIM) balances conducted by Fraunhofer IZM and global security technology group Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) has demonstrated what is said to be a clear lead for the eSIM in terms of environmental compatibility.
The LCA was carried out by G+D and Fraunhofer IZM, specialists in applied and industrial contract research, in accordance with ISO standard 14040/14044 and was accompanied by an external review panel. The results were subsequently confirmed by a review statement.
The setup of the study tested the environmental impact of one SIM card and one eSIM when authenticating a single user in the mobile network, including use of the functionality for a period of three years, which corresponds to the typical service life of a smartphone.
As well as examining the raw materials and materials used in production, the transport routes and the use phase of the products through to disposal, the LCA also looked at components in the end device that ensure SIM functionality, such as the SIM tray, SIM connector, additional PCB area and the SIM power supply.
According to a study from global mobile trade association the GSMA, 260 mobile operators in 88 countries already offer commercial eSIM services for smartphones. By 2030, eSIM is forecast to account for 76% of all smartphone connections and its development as a true candidate technology was given a huge boost by the new iPhone 14, which already does without a SIM card tray in the US. Other smartphone manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will follow suit.
G+D said the results of the LCA confirmed the eSIM as the more environmentally friendly solution in all analysed environmental impact categories compared with the SIM card. Particularly noteworthy were lower CO2 emissions, it added.
The LCA of the two formats under question showed a 46% reduction in emissions for the eSIM compared with the SIM card (123g CO2 equivalent versus 229g CO2 equivalent). The differences were even more pronounced at the various stages of the lifecycle. Specifically, for the SIM card, 59% of emissions occurred during production (upstream), while transport and use (downstream) accounted for 41%.
In the case of the eSIM, only 2% of emissions occurred during production. The remaining 98% were found to be due to downstream, as the eSIM chip is installed in the mobile device by the OEM.
“The independent study underlines the importance of the eSIM for responsible mobile communications,” said Jan Bock, head of operations in G+D’s connectivity and internet of things (IoT) business. “Mobile operators and users can thus significantly reduce their CO2 emissions by using cutting-edge technology. The results of the study serve as a starting point for us to analyse and further evaluate the entire SIM card ecosystem in terms of sustainability.
“We have already converted the majority of our datacentres and production facilities to renewable energy in order to achieve our net-zero goal and to be able to offer customers low-emission or even CO2-neutral products.”
David Sanchez, research associate at Fraunhofer IZM, added: “The results of the study show the environmentally friendly potential of the eSIM as a connectivity solution. Particularly noteworthy here is the savings potential in CO2 emissions by reducing the necessary distribution and additional hardware of the eSIM solution compared to the SIM card.”
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