IoT? All about a SIM Without the Card in an Open IoT Ecosystem

April 13, 2016 by John Hatcher

Dennis Juul Poulsen, general manager of Spirent Communication’s IoT Connectivity and Subscription Management business
 
Ultimately, the Internet of Things (IoT) will only reach its full potential if it benefits consumers and makes life more convenient on a worldwide scale. Coming home to an apartment in New York at the right temperature with an oven that is pre-heated and lights that turn on ten minutes before you arrive is no longer a dream. Thanks to smartphone apps, it’s a reality.

 

But the benefits of IoT extend far beyond household appliances.  Smart connected trucks can be tracked by fleet managers in real time. Vending machines in Chicago directly alert vending machine distributors when stocks are low so they can replenish it before the revenue stream is lost. IoT applications and opportunities seem endless but pain points remain.       

Seizing IoT opportunities requires fundamental changes. Let’s look at the humble SIM which has served the mobile industry so well over the years. It has served its time and is simply not suited for IoT deployments. It is too big to be embedded in devices like sensors in smart shoes, connected ski vests or smart doors or any other product of the all-connected era.
Instead, the IoT industry will make wholescale moves to minuscule, low footprint embedded SIM (ESIM) units – a SIM without the card. It is the ESIM that can be embedded in any device and provide more functionality than the traditional SIM.

But is the switch to ESIM enough? As it stands, either solution provides connectivity to only one carrier’s network … a closed mobile ecosystem. Both are barriers to trade and development.
The first is undoubtedly that there are too many M2M solution providers and devices that run on their own dedicated platforms, which means they cannot talk to one another and will not therefore have a relevant role in the global IoT business.
In order to realize the full potential of IoT, the GSMA together with wireless carriers and other major industry stakeholders, have been working to agree on standards that will make it possible for all devices to communicate with one another worldwide. This means the development of platforms and networks that are inter-connected, rather than forcing consumers to buy into one specific brand.  In short, what is needed is an open connected world.

Another problem facing the IoT industries is legacy mobile connectivity models. Currently, physical SIM cards and premium priced subscriptions that lock users into long-term contracts will not be scalable in the IoT era. Looking at the sheer number of connected devices, today’s carrier connectivity will not be scalable from the device makers perspective and pricing would in all probability not be suitable to end users, be it a consumer or a shipping container operator. Local and small scale wireless service providers will not be able to find a relevant business role in the connected products business, which will be largely dominated by global brands and manufacturers and will require seamless global connectivity and hence today require services of carriers with strong global coverage.   
 
In short, the highly successful connectivity and business model, which has made wireless service providers highly successful in the personal communication business will not scale in the IoT business. While preserving the successful service model for personal communication, mobile broadband carriers will have to invent another business model for IoT business.    
 
The new carrier IoT connectivity models will have to support an open connectivity ecosystem, which provides possibilities for locked and open connectivity models where large global carriers as well as local carriers are able to find sustainable IoT business opportunities. It would have to enable pricing models which make sense for device manufacturers and also for end-users. It would have to provide freedom of choice for device manufacturers and end-users which eventually will unlock the vast global explosion of connected product business.

... why embedded SIM and subscription management enables carriers of all sizes to succeed in the IoT era

Firstly, the IoT industry will make wholescale moves to ESIM … minuscule, low footprint embedded SIM units – a SIM without the card. It is the embedded SIM that can be embedded in any device of any size and form and provide more functionality than the traditional SIM. Embedded SIM element eventually enables the economies of scale for manufacturers of all kind of products and devices. The more the connected products, the more there will be need for connection. The barriers of physical hardware and SIM card will have to be torn down before the full potential of connected product business can be achieved.
 
Secondly, the embedded SIM and its reprogrammability will allow credentials of any available network to be easily provisioned into the SIM at any point of time on the product lifecycle. The cloud subscription management allows fast switching to another network’s credentials. In practice, SIM reprogrammability and remote subscription management enable various connectivity models.
 
It allows connected devices using only one carrier’s subscription if a device manufacturer and a carrier prefer an exclusive business partnership. Essentially, this resembles the current legacy connectivity model. However, the embedded reprogrammable SIM and remote subscription management allows also more open connectivity models where a manufacturer provisions credential of different carriers into its devices depending, for instance, on the geographic location of the device. Reduced lock-in effect to the manufacturer will definitely increase demand for more devices and products as opposed to what would have been achieved with a closed, and potentially a less economical connectivity model.
 
It also allows a “democratic” business model where the end-user of the product or device chooses the network to which his or her device connects using the subscription management cloud service.   

... open ecosystem is not the end of carriers

Unlike many preconceptions, embedded SIM and its reprogrammable features will not be the end of the carriers. It enables an open ecosystem of unlimited opportunities. Large global carriers that have the capacity to become a global connectivity partner for a global manufacturer will be able to do just that. However, a local wireless service provider will also be able to take part in the global IoT business by becoming a local connectivity provider even for a global manufacturer.
 
Until such time as global markets operate open networks, the predicted large scale growth of IoT devices and their associated IoT device applications are at risk and will create major challenges for the entire IoT ecosystem. Manufacturers in whatever vertical market will simply not be able to scale-up production lines and achieve economies of scale needed to address the global open-network IoT ecosystem.

An open worldwide connectivity solution is the only route to IoT growth and must be one where the end-user, consumers or enterprises, can decide which MVNO’s or MNO’s networks they wish to subscribe to and they must also be able to switch devices from one network to another. The frontier of closed networks will then disappear.
 
Remote subscription management over the cloud will also play an important role in the development of IoT opportunities. Connected cars moving across borders must be able to switch networks to their choice and take advantage of the lowest cost of joining a new network. Current network business models will disappear and be consigned to the dustbin.

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