eSIM – When the GSMA came up with the eSIM specifications back in 2016, its intention was clear: provide a reliable and interoperable way to equip devices with connectivity, in a complex ecosystem where multi actors interact across the product lifecycle. The SIM, which is the token to access the network, is a 30-year-old product that had become inapplicable for connected devices or automotive. While many devices still use the traditional SIM card approach, they are not ideal for the connected ecosystem the industry leaders envision, with an estimated 55.7 B connected devices worldwide by 2025.
How would OEMs connect devices before the eSIM?
Let’s take the example of a smart meter which equipped with a removable SIM card. First, when the product is manufactured, a SIM is introduced, the device is tested for connectivity and the SIM is removed once testing is over, well before shipping. The device testing in itself is long-tedious process with device having to be tested with each network in each country for compatibility before deployment. Telecom companies have long invested in resources to specify module, chipset, or device that may be compatible with their network and when a new technology is introduced, the compatibility testing has to be done again.
The device is sold to a utility company, which negotiates connectivity plans for each individual regions and purchase SIM for local connectivity. These SIMs are dispatched to project deployment area and inserted at deployment stage into individual device. Later, if the SIM gives an error or need replacement, field services are called, which adds more manpower resources to the maintenance of the equipment.
The scalability and success of any IoT project doesn’t solely depend upon the solution but also on the specifications and abilities of the devices.
A critical point comes in the device lifecycle, when the device is being designed and it is to assure that the device would be successfully identified and recognized in different networks, especially in Cellular and LPWAN type of networks.
The device certification process is a long & tedious process. It must meet the initial inspection requirements on many topics, especially:
- Individual Network Protocols • TRP – Total Radiated Power
- RSE – Radiated Spurious Emissions • Idle Mode Emissions,
- Sim Specifications • Specific Absorption Rate, etc.
Certification involves different authorities who need and want to make sure your device is working according to established standards.
For cellular networks, there are standards and certification models. In Europe, this is regulated by GCF certification. In the United States, PTCRB certification is followed for mobile communication technologies including 2G, 3G, 4G and new LPWAN technologies.
Telecommunication standards confirm device interoperability across different networks to ensure that there are not devices causing network interference or damage to the network.
Sometimes the intended operator network may have an additional certification needs or preferences. It is common for US Tier 1 operators to request in-house certifications on top of the ones previously mentioned. Imagine horror of getting this certification with multiple MNOs in multiple geographies with a removable SIM card.
Aside the challenges of traditional SIM in the product life cycle mentioned above, the devices have a few operational barriers to its usage.
They may be spread across a large diverse area, which are typically unsupervised and are subject to external influences like weather and temperature and vibration or may go through multiple geographies from its original provisioning country like in case of automobiles. In such cases the SIM card needs to be protected and kept in a secure part of the device where it will not be damaged or open to theft and not OEMs not only need to test the device and manage MNO agreements for local connectivity, but for roaming as well. The lifespan of a connected devices is typically tens of years and, for various reasons, the owner may wish (or be forced) to change the operator providing the cellular connectivity or upgrade the connectivity technology for advance applications.
Due to lack of scalability, security and flexibility, the traditional SIM card poses a challenge for OEMs and it was mandatory to invent a modern, secure, interoperable solution to be connected in a secure way to the network. In that sense, the eSIM was a major step forward into this direction, as it provided an answer for these flaws in the lifecycle development of IoT products.
Olivier Leroux, CEO of Oasis Smart Sim
eSIM enabled a new reality of interoperability and OTA download
Devices equipped with eSIM would prove to be more future-ready for OEMs throughout the product lifecycle. eSIMs enable flexibility from a product design point of view, as it requires much smaller space for installation, thus making devices cost-effective. Since the eSIM is embedded in the device, it is more secure from any physical or environmental damage. On that matter, the use cases are immense in the area of connected cars or logistics for instance.
The challenges of traditional SIM in the product life cycle mentioned above could be avoided with the new embedded SIM. As the devices complete manufacturing, a global bootstrap connectivity would be enabled in eSIM at the same time of eUICC enablement. An eSIM is easily programmable and completely rewritable, which means that the eUICC profiles are assigned over-the-air to the dealer. Moving from negotiating each deal locally, the dealer can now apply local eSIM profiles as the meters are installed in various countries. In the event of a network generation shutdown, the update or upgrade of the eSIM profile can also be done over-the-air, making it completely future-proofed and protecting costs for the dealer. If the technical team needs to make an update to a certain serie of devices, these updates can happen seamlessly and instanteanously over-the-air.
With multi-profile functionalities, over-the -air update of credentials and interoperability, the eSIM provided the ability for OEMs to expand global footprint without having to invest in multiple MNO agreements or work with multiple parties to scale up, while addressing in-person issues at the moment of updates or SIM deactivation. It makes testing quick, easy and centralized with bootstrap profile that can be demanded anytime.
With this evolution, Device manufacturers understood that the future of the SIM in mobile communications is 100% digital and 100% on the Cloud, because this is the simplest way their customers can connect their products to the network and for them to stay connected to their devices.
Jonathan Kendall, COO of Oasis Smart Sim
The eSIM process offers easy & cost-effective operations. It makes the device more usable by upgrading the underlying connectivity technology over-the-air instead of manually replacing the SIM with each advancement.
But some challenges remain…
And just as any technological change, we expect this new technology to work just as seamlessly or better than the old technology. For device manufacturers, who have built their products and brands on best-in-class performances, cutting-edge engineering, it is paramount to make them “just work” for their customers. Hence, getting them equipped with new technologies has to equally “just work”.
From a technology point of view, the flexibility of eSIM is very much achieved on whether OTA migrations can happen in practice. For this to be the case, both the outgoing and incoming SIM vendors must be able to exchange the subscriber’s data seamlessly and quickly, no matter where there devices are deployed. However when we work in multi-vendor complex deployments, this processes is harder to achieve in practice and the road ahead needs to offer solutions complementing the eSIM to enable businesses across industries to capture, move and manage information seamlessly and securely worldwide.
We’ll explore the operational challenges of OEMs in complex deployments and our response to them in a second article.