eUICC presents the next step towards multi-carrier, multi-platform IoT

The embedded universal integrated circuit card (eUICC) introduces a means for organisations to evade the traditional constraints of subscriber identification module (SIM) cards issued by mobile network operators under cellular connectivity contracts. These contracts have required organisations to replace operator SIMs if they wish to change provider but eUICCs enable organisations with greater flexibility and control. Here, Evan Whitelock, a product manager at Aeris, tells George Malim how eUICCs can provide organisations with greater flexibility and control of their connectivity, especially as volumes ramp up to mass scale.

IoT Now: What do you see as key eUICC benefits?

Evan Whitelock: eUICC obviously is a hot topic in today’s IoT world, especially around cellular connections. I think that’s because of the potential the technology can deliver. The value to the customer lies in the incredible flexibility eUICC enables, which will manifest itself in different ways, according to the characteristics of specific deployments.

Evan Whitelock, a product manager at AerisEvan Whitelock, a product manager at AerisEvan Whitelock, a product manager at AerisThe most obvious of these is service assurance. In yesterday’s world, you would take SIM cards from a provider and then, for better or worse, you would be locked in to that provider for, in many cases, the life of the device. Even though connectivity contracts typically are not as long as the expected lives of IoT devices, the cost of sending someone to go and switch the SIM card would defeat the purpose of changing connectivity providers. Put simply, the cost of changing a SIM outweighs any savings or service gain offered by an alternative provider.

A key eUICC benefit, therefore, is to be able to switch to an alternative provider with better service or rates and to not get locked in to an existing provider as rate reductions continue elsewhere. Don’t forget there’s a race to the bottom on price going on in the cellular market and no one should be committed to paying last year’s – higher – price. It’s also important to recognise that as more and more deployments grow to the point where real scale exists, organisations have greater buying power and can take advantage of lower cost connection rates. To take advantage of that, the flexibility offered by eUICC will be vital.

However, not all the benefits of eUICC are reality yet. This is a new technology and, while it is standardised, there has been hesitancy on the part of cellular carrier partners to dive into this. Sometimes, communication of the benefits has been overdone. For example, being able to optimise coverage based on which network has the best coverage at a given time in a given location is not quite here yet, although that capability soon will be available.

IoT Now: How are connectivity providers reacting to the emergence of eUICC? Do they fear the technology will disintermediate them?

EW: They absolutely will lose exclusivity and, for them, that’s an understandable concern. The value of eUICC to customers is in the increased flexibility and control it enables. But this isn’t just plucked out of the air. Operators will have to sacrifice a bit of control. It makes sense that there is some hesitancy because the subscriber numbers represented by IoT devices contribute to their total connections, and operators are very concerned about losing net additions of connections. eUICC means customers could move 50,000 units off an operator’s network with a lot less effort than ever before.

Naturally, mobile operators will have some opposition to that. Also, there is the issue of overlapping footprints between operators. Operators will be cautious about enabling customers to have control and the ability to switch back and forth between providers. Over time, this will work itself out and business agreements will be put in place to allow multiple profiles to be maintained on the eUICC. To me, it looks like the enablement of mobile number portability in the consumer cellular connectivity marketplace, and I think that’s the direction eUICC deployment will take. However, the big difference is that IoT connectivity has become so commoditised and the volumes will be so large that everyone is moving to a multi-carrier approach for IoT connectivity.

Aeris is no different to any other provider in this respect as we’ve been working on eUICC for some years now. It’s important to view eUICC as just the next big step towards a multi-carrier, multi-platform IoT. This is a traditional direction but it will be interesting to see how flexible mobile carriers are in comparison to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).

I think that MVNOs, for us as a carrierneutral provider, will be more aggressive in creating the multi-carrier environment because, where possible, mobile carriers will want as much traffic as possible.

IoT Now: Do you think the benefits of eUICC are well understood?

EW: Customers absolutely should know about the concept. When you look at many of the solution creators in this market – whether they provide services or equipment – I think, traditionally, they have been experts on the challenges they solve in the world. For example, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will be an expert on the challenges in their market while an application service provider (ASP) will be an expert on the service they provide. Connectivity is an afterthought and has been viewed as a necessary evil.

However, as the capabilities of eUICC become more widely available and better understood, these organisations can start to wrap their minds around what this technology can do for them.

My main concern is that there is slightly misleading information out there today that implies multiple carriers are available on a single SIM right now. We’re not quite there yet but, as solutions are built around this technology, the functionality will become clearer and, if you fast forward a few years, eUICCs will become the norm. Broadly speaking, customers recognise that, as they make the next big leaps, the concept around creating an efficient, scalable, multi-carrier, multi-technology landscape will be fundamental to success.

IoT Now: Do the conflicting or inconsistent terminologies surrounding eUICC and eSIMs hamper market perception?

EW: I think so, especially because we’re only now getting into the broader education of the market. I’m not very concerned about this in the long term because the message will become consistent, but today a lot of people are saying they’re first to market and are bringing shallow information that can be misinterpreted.

It does seem now that you can search for eSIM or eUICC and get the same answers, and that creates a degree of confusion. In addition, there are some underlying difficulties. For example, without a subscriber management platform, you can’t achieve many of the benefits of eUICC. Having said that, I really believe this is just a symptom of the introduction of any new technology. As the market place continues to be educated, everything will become much clearer.

IoT Now: Does eUICC really matter as we enter the era of over-the-air (OTA) upgrades and other flexible means of managing devices?

EW: We are in the middle of a fundamental shift in which everybody is moving towards an environment that creates flexibility. Both eUICC and OTA capabilities are part of this and, as the market is validated, will increase competition, which I view as a good thing.

The flexibility is both for the customer and the provider because it enables suppliers to broaden with whom they work and integrate. For example, greater flexibility means that deployments on another platform still can be managed by a different provider. This is where everyone is going and it is a direct reflection of the fact that no single technology or single global roaming SIM is good enough anymore.

The reality is that in order to provide the flexibility required by everybody, everything has to be on a platform and available. While eUICC is not a requirement for everyone today, in a few years it will be closer to a standard offering than a valueadded one. It’s an important capability, much like the security of OTA upgrades today, but it depends on the exact deployment scenario of a customer or owner of a solution as to how – and when – it will be deployed.

IoT Now: What is Aeris’ approach to eUICC? What do you offer and how do you see the market developing?

EW: We view eUICC as a tremendous opportunity and we’re actively moving forward with our own eUICC capabilities today. We have the objective of building out an underlying framework to support our customers so, when customers with buying power can negotiate contracts without our help, we’ll have the foundation for them to do that and future-proof their solutions. They may not wish to add a second profile for five years but they can do so then as the requirements of their service dictates.

eUICC is, therefore, a solution we’re committed to and it directly compliments our view of where we want to take our business. We’re excited by the prospect and we continue to find new use cases and value within eUICC. The long-term potential is enormous.

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