Why eSIM and iSIM are the enablers of flexible, remote, secure IoT scale

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If the anticipated growth of IoT cellular connected devices is to be realised, enabling remote SIM provisioning for all is vital.

Although market hype suggests that innovative IoT use cases will be powered by the low latency and high speed of 5G, the reality is that the majority of IoT devices need low bandwidth connectivity and the sub-10ms latency of 5G is not required. These devices carry out small and infrequent but critical tasks. A sensor in a water tank can, for example, send an alert if it notices leakage but routinely will report the tank’s water level on a daily or hourly basis.

This application doesn’t need always-on connectivity and communications are very small in terms of data transmitted. Much like the humble water tank sensor, the bulk of IoT consists of these types of connected sensors that are distributed at massive scale and often located in remote or hard-to-reach locations. Typically, long operating life is required and therefore very low maintenance and extended battery life are priorities to keep operational costs low and to optimise use of memory and power resources.

With the arrival of embedded and integrated SIMs (eSIM and iSIM), such IoT devices adopting these and connected by low bandwidth cellular connectivity can improve their longevity. This is thanks to the flexibility eSIMs and iSIMs offer by allowing the connectivity provider to be changed during the deployment without a costly visit to the devices and a physical SIM swap. In addition, the device owner gains near instant management and control capability from a single, efficient platform that is connectivity provider agnostic.

However, eSIMs don’t solve all the challenges and existing remote SIM provisioning (RSP) specifications mean the following issues can’t be overcome currently because of the sporadic, limited or hard to predict time devices spend online. Issues such as minimal data allowances, no support for SMS, restricted and secure data pathways and limited device functionality all constrain capability. In addition, costly remote management events can skew the business case with SIM management achieved only via pre-arranged and integrated third-party platforms.

These issues are exacerbated by the remote management challenges of having limited or no device interfaces, no end user access or prohibitive local access, changes to business and cost models and the variations inherent to infinitely mobile devices and things.

Cellular industry body, GSMA is working with the cellular IoT industry to introduce new RSP specifications to address this area and is targeting devices that utilize low bandwidth cellular radio technology and/or are constrained in terms of their user interface. The aim is to address a different set of business needs that fall into the gap between those covered today by consumer and machine-to-machine (M2M) RSP.

Collectively, the industry decision is to adopt the consumer architecture as a foundation to build the new set of specifications out from. These will encompass key features that enable interfaces to be adapted to work for this class of cellular IoT device.  They will include adjustments for low latency transport infrastructure, the adoption of suitable protocols and security and accommodation of low power and seldom-awake devices. Furthermore, they aim to bring remote profile management from nominated, specification compliant and trusted third party platforms, supporting and enabling remote profile management on an individual or device fleet basis.

Critically, this will allow for bulk provisioning during manufacture and before deployment, enabling truly global products to be distributed with no need for localised configuration at the point of first use. As IoT adoption accelerates from national or regional scales to support the goals of smart grids, smart mobility, better metering and healthcare ecosystems, this is a key hurdle for businesses wanting to realize the promise of build once, deploy globally.

Kigen has been putting forward eSIM and iSIM as the cornerstone of IoT security and sees this as a vital piece of the mass-scale IoT device connectivity puzzle. If the anticipated number of IoT cellular connected devices is to be realised, enabling RSP for all is vital. To this end, Kigen has been actively pursuing solutions to these problems over the past few years, since it’s incubation within Arm. As an independent company, Kigen has taken this work further in conjunction with carrier partners, to demonstrate that RSP is possible over low bandwidth connections without the use of SMS.

In addition, Kigen has proved that RSP is possible over a datagram transport layer security (DTLS) secured constrained application (CoAP) channel using user datagram protocol (UDP). Kigen believes the new specification can adopt proven and suitable transport and protocols and maintain security levels. To ensure this focus is maintained and solutions are driven forward for the industry, Kigen has taken on the role of Chair of the GSMA working group that is drafting these IoT targeted RSP specifications and is working closely to collaborate and align with cellular carriers that provide IoT connectivity and device manufacturers to ensure the specification enable RSP in any cellular IoT device. This industry collaboration and ecosystem approach may just be the synergy we need to power massive IoT and enable low power, infrequent use IoT devices with flexible, global, secure cellular connectivity.

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