Time to Ditch the Dumb Pipe - Part 2
This is the second in our mini-series “Time to ditch the dumb pipe”, regarding IoT connectivity. In Part 1 (Time to ditch the dumb-pipe Part 1), we explored the IoT connectivity market and outlined the merits of 5 leading IoT connectivity technologies. We highlighted the need for mobile connectivity providers like IoT-focused MVNOs and Mobile Operators to create new value for their customers by adopting software-defined mobile networking, which challenges the notion of mobile connectivity just being a ‘dumb pipe’. We expect a growing segment of IoT customers to demand these enhanced levels of visibility and control, so that they can manage and secure their connected devices, just like any other asset in their IT estate.
In this Part 2, we explore eSIM and iSIM IoT connectivity solutions. In particular, we explore the benefits that they bring to IoT use cases. It is already clear that eSIM opens the door to added value services and enhanced flexibility and security. eSIM and iSIM also have the potential to enable the SIM to become a valuable root of trust.
The GSMA published the first eSIM M2M specification SGP.01 in January 2014, which would eventually see the replacement of the traditional multi-IMSI implementation used for so many years by the automotive industry and other verticals. Although the M2M use case was initially the main driver behind this, its adoption has been overshadowed in more recent years by its sibling, eSIM for consumer, evidenced by the recent launch of the eSIM only iPhone 14. This has propelled consumer eSIM into the mainstream, in the traditional mobile market. In the IoT market however, eSIM remains at an earlier stage of adoption…but things are moving fast.
Even though eSIM in IoT is not yet established, there is already significant focus on its natural successor, iSIM. The iSIM performs the same essential functions as the eSIM but is based purely on software. This introduces significant additional benefits, in terms of flexibility, cost reduction and sustainability.
The core purpose of any SIM card is to authenticate and enable the connection of a device to a Mobile Operator’s radio network. Central to this process is a unique identifier called an IMSI.
First, some definitions:
An eSIM (embedded-SIM) is a form of programmable SIM card designed to be embedded directly into a device.
An integrated SIM (iSIM) is a software-only solution which incorporates the operating systems and functions of a traditional SIM into a device's permanent computing hardware.
An International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) is a unique number which identifies a mobile subscriber on a global basis.
Multiple IMSIs can be combined onto a single SIM, enabling that SIM to assume different identifies at different times, as required by the needs of the customer/use case.
eSIMs have been positioned as an innovative solution for IoT device connectivity, opening up new possibilities for IoT solutions. eSIM enables remote, Over-the-Air (OTA) provisioning, eliminating the need to physically switch out a SIM card when changing to a different mobile network provider. Instead, a new Mobile Operator profile (or IMSI) is downloaded onto the eSIM and activated.
In the IoT ecosystem, the eSIM opens the door to added value services and enhanced flexibility. Crucially, network subscriptions can be provisioned and updated remotely, across multiple geographies and over the entire device lifecycle – a significant benefit for massive, remote IoT deployments.
Strategy Analytics forecasts that sales of eSIMs for IoT applications will grow to 326 million by 2025.
eSIM benefits for IoT
eSIM is already being deployed in early adopter business verticals, such as connected cars and industrial IoT. The benefits of eSIM for IoT include the following:
- Future-proofing connected devices. IoT devices deployed over a long time are protected from the impact of evolving network technologies, network sunsets or service terminations, by eliminating technical or carrier lock-ins.
- Eliminating SIM switching costs. Remote provisioning to different carrier profiles or network technologies enables organisations to eliminate the need to purchase new SIM cards and physically replace legacy SIMs.
- Streamlining logistics management. With no need to physically replace legacy SIMs, organisations eliminate the process of managing costly and time-consuming truck rolls to dispersed geographic locations.
- Maximising return on IoT investments. By reducing costs and improving operational and logistical efficiencies, organisations are empowered to minimise the total cost of ownership of connected devices and maximise returns on IoT investments.
"eSIM technology is well-placed to enable scalable, secure global connectivity"
eSIM use cases in IoT
Here are just some of the innovations underway which are enabled by eSIM technology.
For carmakers, delivering cars to any country without the need to insert a specific SIM reduces costs and improves customer service. Car producers can control eSIMs in their vehicles as a managed service. Providing the flexibility required to support multiple connectivity needs in modern vehicles, such as emergency call systems and connected media units, is a key driver for the use of eSIMs in the automotive sector.
According to the latest statistics from ABI Research, there were 396m connected cars in 2020. This is estimated to reach 729m by 2025. In this future, changing network providers, by choice or by necessity, will be routine with eSIM managing OTA profile updates. Buying or selling a car with eSIM will be worry-free, with a simple OTA download establishing services for the new owner.
The sheer geographic scale of modern farming operations limits the deployment of many wireless connectivity options. Corporate farming often involves acquiring multiple farms spread across wide areas, creating a need for centralised network management. In addition to tracking physical equipment, tracking technology can also be used for monitoring livestock and people. eSIM technology enables the management of mobile network connectivity more easily, via remote service provisioning. By choosing eSIM-enabled devices, customers can easily choose the right mobile connectivity provider for their needs. eSIM also reduces risks/costs of tampering, battery changes and service calls for devices that may be extremely remote and difficult to access.
Shipping and logistics
Knowing the exact location and condition of goods in real-time during shipment is valuable. With eSIM technology, there is no longer a need to physically manage SIM cards before and during transit. Connectivity service providers can change mobile network profiles easily, according to customers’ requirements. This greatly simplifies logistics and lowers costs. Customers can also reduce their cost by more easily controlling which particular mobile operators are used in any given location, ensuring that the balance between quality and cost of service is always optimised.
Object tracking and site monitoring
Within an industrial facility or campus, electronic item tracking is also valuable. Real-time location systems (RTLS) have relied primarily on RFID or Wi-Fi technology. These require a dedicated reader or access point infrastructure nearby for tracking an item. GPS item tracking doesn’t work well in many indoor settings and Bluetooth has a limited range. eSIMs can be a very effective alternative, particularly when accessing Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) mobile networks. One eSIM-enabled device can be used everywhere and remotely managed, over the air.
A big driver in connectivity for smart energy applications is security. Many of these applications have chosen a mesh network such as ZigBee running on a manufacturer-specific profile (MSP) or other proprietary solution. This approach ensures only devices with utility-specific hardware and software can be deployed on their network. It’s a highly secure but also costly approach involving dedicated infrastructure, typically customised for the utility. With eSIM technology, a utility can deploy a smart energy device anywhere within LPWA coverage and register it securely into their application. As discussed in our previous blog How to Secure IoT (in the Network) security-as-a-service in the mobile network can further enhance end-to-end solution security by tightly controlling security policies at the individual endpoint level and by monitoring network traffic for anomalies.
Battery life and small device size are everything in personal wearables. For wearables monitoring health conditions or those incorporating power-hungry audio and vision, longer battery life between recharges is essential. Adopting eSIMs as a replacement for traditional SIM cards helps designers to reduce the size of devices and/or free space within the device for larger batteries. To illustrate, LPWA connectivity and eSIM technology have the potential to transform connected health devices. A healthcare provider will be able to provision its monitoring devices from a central location and then prescribe them for patients locally. The device can be managed in the same way, whether the patient is in a healthcare facility or at home. Devices such as glucose monitors, fall detectors, Augmented Reality (AR) glasses and others can be made to be more secure and less power hungry.
Sensors are making inroads in smart homes everywhere. Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave and other protocols are appropriate for most sensor devices in a home. However, a home security hub should have an independent mobile-based connection to a monitoring service for enhanced security. In that case, even if external cables to the home are cut, the home security hub will still have its wireless connection. Again, with eSIM technology inside, a single home security hub’s connectivity can be provisioned remotely by the monitoring service. The hub can also be easily re-provisioned, if the homeowner moves or changes monitoring services.
eSIM adoption by the IoT industry
A recent study by Juniper Research identified the oil and gas, manufacturing and logistics sectors as three key areas in which eSIM adoption will ramp-up. eSIM installations in these verticals are forecast to grow from 28m units in 2021 to 116m by 2025. Constraints do exist on growth however – problems which need to be solved. For example, the study also suggested that fragmentation between hardware vendors in the mobile IoT device market may lead to different verticals adopting varied combinations of wireless technologies, hardware and management tools, creating unnecessary inefficiency.
One constraint, in particular, is in the world of IoT devices operating in the LPWAN sector, where battery life and access to networks and bandwidth present many challenges. To address this the GSMA are currently working towards releasing an eSIM IoT specific (as opposed to the traditional M2M) architecture that utilizes the eSIM for consumer model but with some innovative adaptations. Yet to be published as active, the specification can be viewed on the GSMA website in its current working version SGP.31.
This new innovation is likely to have a very significant impact in the adoption rate of eSIM for M2M and IoT use cases as more devices and eUICCs that are capable of supporting this model enter the market.
"iSIM technology is the long-term future of mobile connectivity for IoT"
iSIM will (in time) enable a new IoT future
With an iSIM approach, the SIM is no longer a discrete component. Instead, the iSIM is integrated as software into another system chip within the connected product’s design. This delivers additional space and power savings and, by cutting the total number of components, reduces a product’s assembly costs and improves its sustainability credentials.
iSIM offers a comprehensive solution that simplifies mobile IoT device design efforts, enabling device vendors to focus on their core skills and drive market innovation. As IoT solutions become ubiquitous, users and manufacturers will want secure and seamless connectivity to be included in the device as part of the chipset. iSIM provides secure authentication and device identification at a lower cost than other methods.
iSIM technology is the long-term future of mobile connectivity for IoT because it reduces material costs for manufacturers and is more sustainable. Counterpoint Research projects that 488m consumer electronics devices will support iSIM by 2025. Eventually, iSIM will replace eSIM as the dominant non-removable SIM technology.
eSIM vs iSIM - what’s the difference?
Unlike embedded SIMs (aka eSIMs), iSIMs reside inside the chip. The integrated SIM moves the SIM to a secure section next to the application processor and modem. It is built as a trusted area (Tamper Resistant Element) into a System on Chip (SoC). One of the advantages of iSIM will be that it is a fully standardised embedded solution that enables interoperability across different vendors and consistent use by IoT device makers. The GSMA has released all approved GSMA iSIM specifications.
iSIM benefits for IoT...
- Reduced footprint: embedded into the device’s hardware, it allows for smaller, lighter devices that are less expensive to produce.
- Power optimisation: lower power requirements mean that batteries will last longer and IoT devices will benefit from more efficiency.
- More efficient production: integrating the iSIM as part of the baseband module can streamline production and operation processes.
- Reduced cost and time to market: a generic and easy-to-integrate solution for all IoT verticals, as well as a significantly smaller chip that saves space, time and materials.
- Sustainability: no extra housing or plastic, reduced power consumption and a much smaller size make this the greenest SIM solution.
iSIM use cases in IoT...
iSIM is an emerging technology. Because the nature of iSIMs, connectivity and security requirements can be integrated at the product engineering design stage. This will enable manufacturers to bring more cost-effective and secure connected products to market.
It is the early days for iSIM in IoT. Still, the direction of growth is positive and the future potential is very exciting. iSIM will enable much smaller/lighter IoT device form factors. For example, Vodafone has envisioned smart labels powered by iSIM that can be placed on parcels to track them through their entire shipping duration. In this way, an iSIM can replace traditional high-volume/low-cost tracking solutions such as RFID tags.
The complementary role of a programmable mobile network for IoT
In this article so far, we have explored the capabilities of eSIM and iSIM services. We have seen how the addition of programmatic control (eSIM) and virtualisation (iSIM) will bring significant efficiencies to the management of IoT connectivity. The same principles apply to the technology which powers the global mobile ecosystem – the mobile core network technology stacks.
Historically, mobile core network technology was designed to enable Mobile Operators to offer and control standardised services efficiently, at significant scale. Over many years of evolution, new players in the telecoms connectivity value chain have emerged, to offer end customers increased flexibility and responsiveness.
However, the majority of these providers did/do not have direct access to the mobile core network technologies which determine how well the connectivity solution is tailored to customer needs. Instead, they are often reliant on their Mobile Operator partner making changes on their behalf on their network (which involves time and money) and/or the capabilities of a management platform, which sits on top of the operator’s core network.
Meanwhile, outside of the mobile telecoms world, enterprise customers have become accustomed to controlling cloud-based technology services, in far more flexible ways. In our view, as the IoT market continues to mature and IoT solutions become ever more critical to the operations of businesses and public sector organisations, customers will increasingly demand greater levels of visibility of and control over the mobile connectivity that enables those IoT solutions to function.
Excitingly, new approaches to the management of mobile connectivity for IoT (and enterprise applications in general) promise to empower customers with just this type of enhanced control - in real-time, programmatically via API, down to the individual IMSI or application level (if required).
At stacuity, we are focused on this goal – empowering IoT customers with our programmable mobile core network-as-a-service. All IoT customers should be able to fully leverage the power of mobile technologies to secure and connect their solutions, whether they are running one SIM or a million SIMs.
In the final chapter in this series, we will explore the real-life use cases where this new, software-defined network approach to mobile connectivity for IoT can unlock significant advantages for connectivity providers and their customers.
It’s hard to provide a comprehensive list of all eSIM and iSIM principles and IoT use cases within a relatively short blog. So, if you think we should add any aspects or different views, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.
eSIM and iSIM technologies offer IoT customers using mobile connectivity the potential to increase efficiency and optimise the performance of their IoT solutions, on a global basis.
However, in order to fully leverage the potential of these technologies, IoT customers must manage them through a platform which empowers them with direct, fine-grained and real-time control.
Traditional mobile core network technologies deployed by Mobile Operators are not well suited to this task. However, a new generation of software-defined/programmable mobile networks are now bringing the flexibility and scalability of cloud services to the telecoms environment. These software defined/programmable networks will enable IoT customers to build the next generation of IoT services, which will treat mobile connectivity not just as a dumb-pipe but as a core enabler and differentiator.
Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next in our series “Time to ditch the dumb pipe”, where we will share use cases where a software-defined approach to mobile connectivity management adds value, defying the notion of mobile connectivity being just a dumb pipe.
How can stacuity help you?
We’re on a mission to help IoT MVNOs, IoT Aggregators, Systems Integrators, challenger Mobile Operators and IoT Developers by empowering them with fine-grained control of mobile connectivity. Contact our team today if you want to be part of this exciting IoT future and provide more valuable connectivity services.
News - 18.10.21Chris Hall joins Stacuity as Chairman