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4.7 billion global SIM shipments in 2015 – contactless SIM continue to thrive

The SIMalliance, which represents approximately 88% of the global SIM market, has reported  SIM shipments volume equalling 4.7 billion in 2015, reflecting a 0.3% increase on 2014 shipments. The estimated total available market in 2015 was 5.3 billion, compared to 5.2 billion in 2014, marking a 2% increase in total SIM shipments worldwide.

Significant advances were reported by SIMalliance members in key markets and regions, notably, the Americas (+6%), Europe (+1%), India  (+25%), Japan / Korea (+12.5%) and the Middle East & Africa (MEA) (+14%).

Expansion in Key Markets Regions

Total shipment figures, however, were impacted by a contraction within the Chinese market. This was caused by a number of factors:

  • Exceptional demand for LTE cards in H2 14: In 2014, unusually high demand within China for cards to be utilised in LTE networks led to exceptionally large shipment volumes. Many of these were carried forward as 2015 stock;
  • Regulation: In 2015, the Chinese government accelerated identity confirmation following the introduction of regulation in 2013 which mandates that SIM cards must be registered with genuine identities;
  • The macro economic environment: In 2015, China reported its slowest growth in 25 years.

2015 Shipment Volumes (SIM units)

Elsewhere in Asia, however, strong growth was evident, with both the Indian and Japanese/Korean markets performing well. India, which now has the highest shipment volumes in Asia as reported by SIMalliance members, saw a 25% year-on-year market increase, as shipped units jumped from 653m units in 2014 to 816m in 2015. This level of growth signals a recovery from a regulation-induced decline in 2013, as SIM shipments return to stable market levels. Volumes in Japan/Korea grew by 12.5% to 64m. This continues to be a technically progressive market, with persistent demand for advanced SIM technologies, such as LTE, NFC, nano SIMs and M2M SIMs.

In the Americas, shipments jumped 6% from 738m units in 2014 to 781m in 2015. Growth in this region, particularly in South America, is largely attributed to the continued roll out of 4G networks and the ongoing migration to LTE cards, which currently shows no signs of slowing.

A 14% market increase in MEA, where year-on-year shipments rose from 861m to 982m units, demonstrates the strong growth potential of this market. Growth is due to three factors: the ongoing penetration of smartphones, which is seen particularly in emerging markets thanks to more affordable smartphone models leading consumers to upgrade from feature phones; continued subscriber acquisition; and a sharp rise in LTE card shipments, as 4G networks start rolling out across African markets.

The return to growth (1%) in Europe (440m to 444m units) has been welcomed by SIMalliance as an indicator of market stability, particularly since no major SIM technology migration was undertaken in 2015.

On a global scale, the biggest technology driver of SIM market growth in 2015 was the continued migration to 4G networks, leading to every market in every region reporting, at minimum, double digit growth in LTE card shipments.

NFC SIM growth in select markets

The cessation of Softcard in the US in 2015 impacted significantly on NFC-enabled SIM shipment volumes in the region throughout the year, resulting in a decline for North America shipments. NFC SIM growth was seen, however, across Asia (16% to 68.7m units) and Europe (25% to 32.8m units) among other markets, generating a total increase in shipments of 20m units outside of the Americas. Despite these increases, the influence of activities in the US led to a static global picture for NFC-enabled SIMs.

Herve Pierre, SIMalliance Chairman, comments: “The trend for many key SIM markets in 2015 was expansion. Despite economic and regulatory challenges within the Chinese market, total market shipments still grew by a healthy 2% – or 100m units across the year.

Outside of China, SIMallance shipments grew by 7% across all other markets, indicating the strength of other regional markets. This is largely attributable to the ongoing penetration of smartphones in emerging markets and the continued roll out of 4G and the subsequent demand for LTE cards, which has been a very positive technology migration success story this year. With shipments of cards destined for LTE networks reaching 1 billion units for the first time in 2015, migration is now in full swing across all regions of the world and it is expected to continue apace.

“Looking ahead to 2016, a key priority for the industry is to continue evolving and adapting SIM technologies in line with changing market requirements and, with this in mind, SIMalliance is actively promoting innovation. The association is already leading cross-industry efforts to define security requirements within 5G.

From our initial findings, it appears that there could be a role for dedicated tamper-resistant hardware across the four segments identified for 5G: massive IoT, critical communications, enhanced mobile broadband and network operations. We are currently engaging with other 5G stakeholders to fine tune our vision of the role hardware based device security will play in protecting 5G networks and the many new services which will be deployed across segments.”

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