Secure and seamless access to mobile networks by connected devices has traditionally been based on 3GPP/ETSI-specified Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs). The SIM cards common in the market today have provided a tamperproof solution that has ensured the security of both the subscriber and operator. SIM cards store the operator’s defined profile, which is programmed at the time of manufacturing, and are used to identify and authenticate the subscriber connecting to the network.
Over the last several decades, an extensive ecosystem has developed solutions to manage the delivery and fulfillment of operator services via SIM cards. They have proven to be highly interoperable across networks worldwide, enabling mobile services for subscribers both at home and while roaming. However, the usefulness of the physical SIM cards may be reaching its limits.
Although the physical SIM card has reduced in size to fit smaller and more constrained devices, its physical size does present issues for the form factor of very small devices such as wearables, which are increasing in popularity. Today’s SIM-less wearables also lack both device portability across mobile networks and service continuity with their smartphones.
In the IoT domain, SIM cards are especially problematic. Across different verticals — e.g., automotive, utilities, public safety, smart cities, e-health — the long lifetime of IoT devices and sensors, their very small sizes, as well as the logistics involved in manufacture, procurement and deployment, impose different requirements compared to traditional consumer mobile devices.
eSIMs = service continuity across networks and devices
To address these challenges, the industry is embracing the embedded software SIM (eSIM or eUICC) with multiple profiles. eSIMs not only bypass the form factor issues, they also make it much easier and cost-effective to manufacture, procure and deploy hundreds of thousands of IoT devices and sensors. And crucially, they offer the ability to reprogram devices — from small wearables to large industrial machines — with a new operator profile without having to physically replace the SIM card.
Thus the next generation of connected devices will increasingly contain eSIMs. As a result, both operators and IoT service providers will need a new solution to dynamically and remotely manage the lifecycle of an eSIM subscription — one that is different than the current systems for managing physical SIM cards through the lifetime of IoT devices (see figure below).
eSIMs will still meet existing security requirements, but will also reduce the logistical costs associated with handling traditional SIM cards. Most importantly, they will enable a new “digital-first” user experience, one that has the potential to change business models for network-connected “things”. The key business benefits include driving new business models between service providers and IoT providers, reducing manufacturing and connectivity costs, and improving the subscriber experience.
Consumers and businesses will no longer need multiple SIM cards for mobile and IoT devices. It will become easier for them to shop for more attractive tariffs from operators (even in roaming countries), soft-activate new plans dynamically when switching to new operators, and port the same services from one device to another or back without swapping SIM cards.
Digital-first examples include:
- A connected rental car company can easily offer value-added LTE data and services to customers and share revenue with operators
- OEM device vendors (e.g., for connected cars) can become global Mobile Virtual Network Operators, realizing volume savings on manufacturing and providing “always-on” local connectivity in worldwide markets
- Global connected fleets (cars, ships, airplanes, etc.) can easily switch to local subscription profiles when traveling to a new country
- Connected fleet-sharing companies, such as ZipCar, Car2Go and Enterprise Car Share, may even offer consumers and small/medium sized buisiness the possibility to “bring your own subscriber profile”
- Users can affordably enjoy seamless experiences on their chosen connected devices including their smartphones and tablets without physically removing or inserting SIM cards by simply soft-activating local subscription profiles while roaming internationally or switching operators.
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Join us at Mobile World Congress 2017 in the Fira Gran via, Hall 3, stand 3A10 to learn how Nokia can help operators and IoT service providers manage eSIM subscriptions for mobiles and IoT.
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