Author: Juan Carlos Lazcano, Vice-President of M2M for North American, Gemalto
From smart refrigerators to connected crops, our world is increasingly enmeshed in the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. Today, we’re merely witnessing the first wave of IoT innovation. Soon we’ll welcome the arrival of smart fabrics, autonomous cars, and even “uberized” energy. The IoT is driving what many are calling the “4th Industrial Revolution,” in which enterprises, homes and our very way of life is transformed and enhanced. The future of the IoT hinges on pervasive, flexible connectivity; determining what type and how to turn it on is the first step to unleashing the IoT’s full potential.
Connectivity considerations: which wireless is right?
Commercial and industrial IoT solutions are built to meet unique customer needs, and each use-case has specific requirements for IoT connectivity. For instance, large-scale projects connecting tens of thousands of global endpoints are markedly different than those connecting only hundreds of devices. Large projects with complex infrastructures integrating different wireless technologies typically require bespoke connectivity solutions. However, there are other options for smaller scale projects, including pre-designed and pre-certified endpoints like IoT Terminals that can result in significant savings of cost and time.
IoT connectivity devices – custom-built or pre-designed – use a variety of wireless technologies to stay seamlessly and securely connected. These range from 5G, 4G and 3G cellular solutions for high bandwidth applications like connected cars, to Low-Power, Wide-Area (LPWAN) solutions such as MTC (Machine Type Communication), Bluetooth and LoRa for intelligent road systems, smart city applications and other enterprise applications. Selecting the device with the best features, bandwidth and price point for each use case is an important step toward achieving business and revenue goals. The choices can seem daunting at first, but experienced OEMs and developers can help weed through connectivity considerations to find the best match for each use case.
Turning things on
Provisioning connectivity has been a daunting challenge for IoT device makers and mobile network operators (MNOs) for decades. Unlike consumer devices managed by a person, IoT devices require digital assistance to get and stay connected. For instance, when a person uses a smartphone to connect, they simply dial a number or touch an app on the home screen. Connected streetlights, cars and farm fields don’t have an operator to command action and they each require different levels of connectivity. For example, industrial IoT applications such as smart meters need constant connectivity but they can tolerate slightly higher latency, compared to technologies like connected cars, which require real-time interaction and constant connectivity for applications like eCall.
Complicating the situation further are proprietary SIM cards that enable connectivity to one specific mobile network and backend system, raising interoperability issues. What if your device is designed to connect to a network not available in your area? The complex logistics of connecting swarms of devices with multiple mobile network profiles across different countries is a formidable task. Thankfully, many of these challenges are being resolved with the advent of standardized embedded SIM (eSIM) and On Demand Connectivity (ODC) technologies, utilizing specifications developed by the GSMA, the leading wireless industry governing body.
New eSIM and and ODC standards to the rescue
The GSMA-specified solution allows secure Over- The- Air (OTA) downloading of carrier data to a “generic” universal UICC (SIM card) that can be embedded in devices at the time of manufacturing. Keeping security paramount, the UICC starts out as an MNO-independent component that is securely configured OTA for any MNO subscription profile at the time of deployment. The new standard defines an advanced subscription management system with siloed security domains within the UICC to ensure a secure OTA process. The fully automated process enables secure On Demand Connectivity, which greatly simplifies and streamlines the process of developing and deploying IoT technology.
Widely heralded as a game changer, this dynamic duo – eSIM and ODC – is fundamentally changing the way connectivity is provisioned. Its benefits are manifold for all members of the ecosystem: device makers, end users and mobile network operators.
Streamlined logistics and greater cost efficiency for device makers and OEMs
For OEMs and device makers, these technologies make it possible to develop one device design or SKU that’s compatible with many global networks. This greatly simplifies manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and distribution for greater cost efficiency. OEMs can produce eSIM-enabled devices in bulk and ship them across the world — without worrying that the eSIM is compatible with any MNOs. It also allows for slimmer product designs.
Improved flexibility and customer service for end users
For end users, the experience is improved by eliminating the painstaking set-up process, requiring little to no configuration. This results in a more seamless user experience. It also makes it possible to add new IoT devices (connected home appliances, cars, etc.) to existing service plans, thus centralizing a household’s fleet of gadgets while allowing the end user to switch MNOs throughout the device’s lifecycle.
To put this into context, imagine that three years into enjoying your smart watch, you decide to change your MNO for a better data plan. In the past, this would require signing a new contract and acquiring a new SIM, either at a store or by snail mail, and installing it in your device. With an eSIM, consumers have the flexibility to change service providers online and to access the new MNO’s service almost instantaneously, without disruption to service.
Simplified onboarding, access to the global IoT ecosystem for MNOs
For Mobile Network Operators, eSIMs and ODC simplify customer onboarding and make it easier for customers to add new devices – connected cars, smart appliances, home health hubs – and thus expand existing contracts. It also allows service providers to engage in new and flexible business modules available in the highly lucrative IoT market by monetizing value-added services (VAS). For example, the new mobility and connected car space represents one of the biggest shares of the IoT pie and MNOs are vying to get their connectivity service into the cars. One way to achieve this is by securely provisioning connectivity for the eSIMs soldered into the vehicle telematics boxes during manufacturing. Given that a car’s lifespan is up to ten years longer than that of consumer devices, the flexibility of easily changing subscriptions is a major consideration for car manufacturers. In contrast, it is time consuming and expensive to manually change SIM cards every two years to update service packages. Furthermore, carmakers typically demand a much higher security standard than other IoT applications, and eSIMs are capable of meeting this requirement.
Connectivity: the first step toward unleashing the power of the IoT
Pervasive wireless networks, innovative connectivity solutions and flexible eSIM and On Demand Connectivity solutions are key components in enabling IoT solutions to connect, the first step in realizing the technology’s limitless opportunities. These solutions are helping market leaders push through traditional IoT system roadblocks and seize new opportunities to change our world for the better.
Equally important as enabling reliable, flexible connectivity, IoT technology must also provide built-in security solutions that protect the integrity of devices, data and networks. They must also provide scalable monetization schemes that allow stakeholders to transform ideas and innovations into business revenue. I’ll examine these topics in greater detail in forthcoming parts of this three part series – please stay tuned!