Easier and cheaper enterprise IoT, it’s all in the SIM

Connecting individual consumers over mobile networks is one thing, but connecting a business’s multitude of IoT devices over many different global networks is another challenge altogether. Up to now though, in most cases, the same inflexible SIM technology has been deployed in both scenarios, which isn’t ideal for mission critical business data. An alternative solution for business IoT connectivity in the form of eUICC is now coming into play, Antony Savvas looks at whether it really is the game changer it’s being described as.

The embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC), also known as an eSIM, is smart technology that supports enterprises in their deployment of IoT devices that offer ubiquitous coverage for indoor, rural and urban environments, and in many cases, across a number of countries and continents.

And the advantage for IoT device vendors is that SIMs equipped with eUICC technology can be hard-wired at source and need never be removed over the lifetime of the device, which in some cases could be a decade or more. This is because eUICC allows customers to make service changes over the air using software, not by changing the SIMs in the device – which can be costly, time consumer and service-interrupting.

Nick Sacke, head of IoT and products at connectivity specialist Comms365, says: “Traditionally, the end user has been tied to a single operator for connectivity without any option to amend tariffs or move to another network – this imposes a punitive, fixed longterm cost for an IoT project that may last many years. But eUICC technology is a game changer as it allows complete network flexibility through a container system, where the best local and global mobile network operator (MNO) profiles are loaded into and managed over the air. This empowers users as they benefit from the most cost-effective connectivity tariff with no need to visit sites to do SIM swaps.”

The technology, says Sacke, also opens up the world of blended IoT connectivity service platforms that incorporate low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies, such as NB-IoT, SigFox and Cat-M1. These can be easily integrated with LoRaWAN network solutions – long range, low power communications platforms for building and managing IoT networks – like that supplied by Stream Technologies and other vendors.

Stream Technologies is helping to build citywide and countrywide IoT networks in places including Newport, South Wales; in Jersey; and across Scotland in partnership with local authorities and national governments, with the use of of its IoT-X LoRaWAN platform. Now, eUICC is set to become an increasingly used solution for efficiently and securely transmitting the data public authorities are generating in such networks. Stream’s eUICC-enabled SIMs, for instance, can be re-programmed remotely using its IoTX connectivity management platform.

The connectivity that will underpin the Internet of Things will not be in the form of a single network, but will be a complex mesh of complementary network technologies blended together to offer complete coverage, and eUICC serves this need.

Service provider alliances

But to give enterprise customers the coverage they need to benefit from such technology, IoT service providers must make alliances to fully serve their customers. Companies have to make sure their eUICC systems – which could be inside moving vehicles, freight containers, utility meters, remote processing stations and other locations – are always available to send data irrespective of global position, business operational changes or indeed service provider changes.

That said, Derek Long, head of telecoms and mobile at Cambridge Consultants, warns that some MNOs may not be too keen on eUICC for their own business reasons. He says: “There is real potential for eUICC, but MNOs have worked long and hard to reduce customer churn rates by reducing costs, improving service quality and providing innovative services. The dominant MNOs are unlikely to volunteer to drive a technology like eUICC, which could ultimately ease [speed] churn. Just look at the methods which had to be employed in the past to force MNOs to use number portability, for instance.”

But other service providers are moving in the direction that eUICC requires, partly driven by the release of eUICC version 3.1 by the GSMA last year, which addresses many security and interoperability issues with the technology. For instance, in June this year, China Telecom struck various deals with European-based operators to keep the data coming no matter where the eUICC SIM was located. This included agreements between China Telecom and both Orange and Telenor Connexion.

Karsten Selle, vice president for finance and administration at Orange Mobile Enterprise, said at the time of the agreement with China Telecom: “We are looking forward to creating together with China Telecom true business benefits around the global IoT projects of our respective customers. With this extended footprint in Asia, we further strengthen our IoT and data analytics offering, Datavenue, with enhanced global connectivity capabilities.”

Manufacturing success

Whatever the mobile operators are doing though, Long says eUICC may well be more strongly driven by the IoT device manufacturers. “For cost reasons global product manufacturers are compelled to reducing the number of product variants and increasing the addressable market for their products. Being forced into creating regional product variants because of the limited geographical coverage of MNOs does not support this goal.” Hence, says Long, the market is seeing increasing interest in embedding eUICC in products for the global market place.

Pierre Lelievre, marketing director for connected and embedded software at Gemalto – which provides eUICC solutions – says practical operational factors will drive any success for eUICC. “By being embedded in the device – as opposed to a removable card – eUICC can provide a longer lifecycle, and increased ruggedness and resistance to heat or shocks that might be needed in applications such as connected cars or industrial machines. Adding an eSIM to a device provides manufacturers and network operators with new design possibilities and opportunities to develop new services and innovative business models,” he maintains.

Utility SIMs

Robin Duke-Woolley, the founder and CEO of Beecham Research, says: “The traditional removable SIM card is not suited for the IoT market and particularly not for applications like smart metering – eUICC improves reliability, flexibility, security and trust, while reducing cost and complexity and reducing commercial risk.”

He points out that eUICC has already been introduced into the automotive and other sectors and that well over 20 mobile operators worldwide have launched commercial solutions. Duke-Woolley says the utility industry is particularly set to benefit from the technology. “Utilities face increasing pressures to balance electricity supply and demand,” he says. “As well as increased reliability to reduce site visits, the embedded SIM approach allows over-the-air management of operator subscription profiles without the need for a physical change of SIM, solving the problem of operator lock-in.”

Powering the market

One utility player adopting eUICC is Aidon, which focuses on metering technology in the European electricity market, including in Norway and Sweden. It helps its utility industry customers ensure the efficient delivery of electricity to end users through smart metering systems and the utilisation of grid data. Aidon’s meters constantly collect data on usage and twenty other metrics to ensure accurate billing, reliable diagnostics data and quality distribution.

To enable this, Aidon needed reliable communications between its metering devices in consumers’ homes and its back-end systems, including strong indoor coverage and connectivity across both urban and rural areas. And because of the expected long lifespan of electricity meters, Aidon wanted a solution that would provide secure, long-term coverage for more than 15 years, utilising 4G cellular connectivity.

To address all of these requirements, Aidon selected Sierra Wireless’ eUICC solution, including its Smart SIMs and the AirVantage IoT platform for device management, which offered the required coverage with multi-operator connections.

eUICC is certainly carving out a significant market niche for itself in the IoT market, and any service provider laggards not endorsing the embedded approach may experience some disgruntled customers jumping ship if they don’t move quicker towards the technology.

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