Cellular connectivity remains one of the best connectivity options to power IoT projects. The recent introduction of eSIM (embedded SIM) technology is designed to allow an easier, more versatile implementation and management of cellular connection, and is expected to help boost IoT connectivity in the near future.
However, that’s not saying the adoption of eSIM all over the world has been seamless, and there are still key challenges we should discuss.
What Is eSIM and What Is Its Effect on IoT?
eSIM stands for embedded SIM, and as the name suggests, instead of being a removable, plastic SIM card, the new universal integrated circuit card (eUICC) can be soldered/embedded directly into the device.
There are two key improvements provided by the eSIM over the legacy SIM cards:
- An eSIM is protected by the device and has also been physically improved so it can withstand extreme conditions (temperature, humidity, impact, etc.)
- Typically the legacy SIM card is locked with a network carrier/provider, but with an eSIM, we can choose between different carriers straight from the device.
In IoT applications, eSIM especially offers a bootstrapping of connectivity. Bootstrapping in IoT is the process of connecting newly powered-on devices/sensors, and is an essential process in IoT to connect devices to the trusted network and the system’s management servers.
The bigger the scale of the IoT system is, the harder it is to properly implement bootstrapping for obvious reasons. Thus, the bootstrapping process would need to be automated and standardized. The eSIM can provide fully automated and standardized bootstrapping, since the eSIM (eUICC) itself is now globally standardized.
With more devices adopting eSIM, we can connect these devices to the IoT network fully-automated, and in a more secure manner. Also, some newer IoT devices might come with an eSIM that has its own device bootstrapping identity. This feature can allow a seamless onboarding of devices to the device management server while securing the data communication/transfer with the IoT cloud.
To summarize, eSIM in an IoT implementation helps in automated, more secure, more easily managed, and cloud-ready IoT connectivity.
How eSIM Can Boost IoT Connectivity
1. More Device Choices and Versatility: Expanding The Market
Technology has allowed chips to be smaller than ever, in accordance with Moore’s law. As a result, eSIM equipped devices are becoming more compact and lightweight, while at the same time being more durable with water and impact resistance.
Meaning, we can place IoT devices and sensors in more challenging locations without needing wire connectivity, especially because they are now also equipped with better batteries.
Not only are the devices becoming smaller and more durable, but eSIM also provides us with the versatility (and lower cost) in switching to a different operator as needed by the location of the IoT project. In the past, we’d need to purchase a new SIM card (which also potentially adds to the e-waste issue) to switch between network operators.
This situation would also help companies to follow the regulations regarding device connectivity no matter where the project is located, and would also provide obvious financial benefit in optimizing cost structures (i.e. when a provider offers a more cost-effective plan, we can easily switch). If we scale our IoT system internationally or even globally, we can also get an international data plan from Truphone, which offers coverage in 100+ countries.
This flexibility is not only limited to the choice between network operators, but also the type of cellular connectivity. IoT encompasses a huge range of use cases and the requirement of devices can differ greatly. Some devices, for example, offer 5G support, some others LTE, and others might be limited to just 2G or 3G. Also, with eSIM we can also switch to newer network options offering low power consumptions like NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) or LTE-M.
In short, how the eSIM technology allows us to seamlessly switch between providers provides so many benefits for consumers and enterprises running IoT projects.
2. eSIM Improves Network Security
Security is very important in an IoT system, where the use cases can involve a very cheap sensor that is connected to a very expensive network. If the $1 device is compromised in security, it can easily destroy the whole, billion-dollar network. Also, there are now various increasingly strict regulations around device security in many jurisdictions.
eSIM, as discussed, is globally standardized, so it’s easier for IoT owners to comply with the local regulations while ensuring the security of all devices.
3. eSIM Enables Consumer-Grade IoT Devices
The latest development in technologies has allowed various consumer-grade IoT devices with their own use cases. They also create new opportunities in selling a new range of products like smart speakers, smart security cameras, smart doorbells, pet/baby monitors, and so on that are beyond what’s offered by traditional mobile devices.
These devices typically require low power consumption and the ability to operate in limited (often environmentally challenging) spaces. This is where eSIM technology can significantly help.
Today’s consumer IoT devices are deployed with eSIM allowing easier and more standardized bootstrapping (to allow better security).
While as we can see, eSIM offers various benefits and versatility, doesn’t mean its implementation in IoT doesn’t have any challenges.
First, the current eSIM market is still fragmented and adoption for it remains low compared to the projection. Many people haven’t upgraded to newer devices and even many of today’s newer flagship smartphones still use legacy SIM cards. These traditional SIM cards are still very dominant and they still work pretty well.
It would still take time before the implementation of eSIM technology can really bloom, but its long-term potential is undisputed. eSIM offers various benefits that can boost IoT connectivity, especially in improving security, automated bootstrapping, and versatility in choosing between different network providers and even network types.