In the past, connecting people was a quite straightforward process that involved inserting a SIM card in a handset or a smartphone to enable connectivity. No surprise to expect, the SIM was pre-provisioned with a subscription in a secure factory, ready to be activated.
In the early 2010s, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) brought new challenges to this model. The challenges were many. For one thing, plastic SIMs were not compliant with the technical specification and requirements of industrial or automotive applications, where a combination of vibration and high temperature is incompatible with plastic SIM.
Another issue was that pre-provisioned SIMs posed logistical difficulties for many IOT companies as they needed to anticipate the correct operator SIM to insert at manufacturing stage based on the final destination of the connected device. Connectivity was managed globally while connected devices were deployed locally.
Another challenge was that some regulations were mandating local connectivity, forbidding permanent roaming, and requiring OEMs to modify products locally.
Tackling the challenges of the traditional SIM card approach
The 30-year-old traditional SIM card approach suddenly appeared inadequate to deal with these challenges.
The response was of course a mobile communications industry uniting to specify the eSIM. Beyond its initial target of providing a solution for M2M/IoT market segment, the subject rapidly extended to consumer devices. The overall objective was to avoid market fragmentation by delivering a single solution to answer market expectations.
However, eSIM has been specified with the noble intention of replicating the success of the physical SIM model in the digital world.
“In other words, eSIM architecture is vertical, meaning one connected object has one embedded SIM activated with one profile and subscription associated with it.”
In this architecture, the stakeholders in the ecosystem were aiming for a highly flexible, scalable, and somewhat horizontal solution.
Since the eSIM remains a SIM, the verticality of connectivity remains. The traditional SIM and eSIM’s vertical architectures, used to connect devices to cellular networks, only partially fulfil the flexibility required by IoT.
Of course, advanced features like multiple enabled profiles, which allow for multiple subscriptions on a single embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC), technically and commercially, partially resolve the need for universal connectivity, but this is accomplished at the cost of multiple permanent subscriptions.
In a similar manner, the Remote SIM provisioning function allowing post-issuance management of the connectivity embedded into the SIM offers an additional layer of flexibility but many Communications Service Providers remain only partially satisfied. It has become increasingly apparent that a broader, more comprehensive approach was needed to resolve the puzzle.
Addressing the need for on-demand, purpose-built connectivity
Different approaches have been tried to address the need for on-demand, purpose-built connectivity in a secure and scalable way.
With the objective to provide an industrial-grade answer to this question, Tata Communications and its subsidiary Oasis Smart SIM have taken an approach that moves the SIM function into a secure cloud environment, to enable devices to connect to cellular network on demand. This approach relies on the same SIM standards as already used in devices, incorporating the same interfaces such as ISO7816. The architecture is secured using Micron Authenta technology.
This approach, is referred to as CloudSIMTM. It has been designed to bridge the gap between the permanent SIM and eSIM connectivity options available today and the future, flexible approach required by the market. It enables standard modems to provide an on-demand, cellular connection without the need of an (e)SIM physically inserted in the device, opening the door to a large variety of use cases and new business models.
“Successful IoT deployments are often associated with three key words: simplicity, scalability, and security.”
This new approach looks like a promising technology to accelerate connected IoT, keeping the security of the SIM while eliminating the complexity and interoperability challenges posed by the integration of the functionality in the device.
Imagine the possibility of empowering industrial customers to activate connectivity only when needed, providing connectivity exclusively to the devices in use. Envision the incredible simplification and resource savings that would result from optimising connections between assets. That’s what the next generation of connectivity will offer.
A new era is coming, merging the traditional permanent SIM/eSIM connections with a new found remote enabler for on-demand connectivity, provided on a temporary, as-needed basis.
To learn more about how connectivity is driving business transformation, click here.