The establishment and maintenance of cost-effective connectivity, no matter where in the world an IoT device is manufactured or is to be deployed requires a high level of flexibility in the choice of network operators and is one of the most significant concerns of enterprises launching global IoT products and services. This applies not only to global organizations seeking to launch projects spanning multiple countries, but also IoT startups seeking to scale a successful national launch into multiple markets. With thousands and even hundreds of thousands of devices in an IoT deployment, it is impractical to change SIM cards when a change of the mobile operator is needed or when the choice of the operator can only be taken after shipping a device.
The GSMA defined the global eSIM specification in 2016 to allow the SIM of any mobile device to be provisioned remotely. eSIM and eUICC together create an embedded architecture that may be securely downloaded and permanently embedded inside any type of device, allowing the device to choose which network to use at any given point. As a result, remote provisioning is possible and much smaller devices can be supported. In this article we will look further into the eSIM/ eUICC - what exactly makes it different, and how you can get the most out of your embedded SIMs.
How can enterprises use eSIM and eUICC to take their M2M / IoT deployment to the next level?
The eSIM specifications from the GSMA describe two main components: the eUICC (embedded UICC) which is considered as the next evolution of the SIM cards and the Subscription Management platform (SM).
The subscription Management platform consists of two components: Subscription Management Secure Routing (SM-SR) and the subscription Management Data Preparation (SM-DP).
The SM-SR is the only entity that can contact the eUICC for the purpose of subscription management directly and maintains a secure connection to the eUICC. As part of the deployment of the eUICC, the vendor of the eUICC registers the card (e.g., certificate, identity) at the SM-SR. The SM-SR can then enforce the Profile policies (allow disablement of a profile) and route the commands from the MNO and SM-DP to the eUICC
The SM-DP has a secure connection to the SM-SR and is responsible for preparing and saving the MNO profiles in a format compatible with the eUICC. Upon reception of a command from the MNO, the SM-DP encrypts and downloads the MNO profile to the eUICC. Further, the SM-DP provides interfaces that enable the MNO to enables/disables a profile.
The SM-SR is usually deployed by the owner of the eUICC cards which could be an MNO, IoT device manufacturer or owner of the IoT devices such as a car manufacturer. The owner of the eUICC will usually also deploy an SM-DP. MNOs that want to manage profiles on eUICC cards will usually also deploy an SM-DP which will be then connected to the SM-SR.
Compared to classical SIM cards, eUICC can store multiple operator profiles instead of only one. These profiles can also be remotely updated, extended or deleted during the lifetime of the eUICC by a subscription management (SM) solution.
The main attraction of eSIM architecture is the promise that it will create more flexibility in the relationship between customer and operator compared to the current situation. eSIM architecture enables over-the-air replacement of the mobile network operator (MNO) profile (virtual SIM) without having to replace the physical SIM, e.g., eUICC itself. eUICCs can be manufactured with just a bootstrap profile that enables the customer’s device to connect to subscription management (SM) platform. Through the SM platform, the eUICC will retrieve an operator profile that is then used by the device for general connectivity. In case the customer decides to change the operator or use another profile then the eUICC would connect again to the SM platform and download a new profile.
This approach has numerous compelling use cases:
Device manufacturers can buy large batches of eUICCs with predefined bootstrap profiles and build these cards into their devices. The actual operator to use only needs to be decided upon once the device is finally deployed. As a result, the manufacturer is freed from the challenge of having to decide in advance which operator to use for which device – which might be very challenging to determine in advance, especially if devices are manufactured in a central location and are shipped to multiple countries.
Some countries have tight restrictions on who can provide connectivity services and on how roaming can be supported. In such cases, devices equipped with eUICC can retrieve a profile of a local MNO when roaming into these countries.
In general, local MNOs have better offers than those using roaming agreements. Hence, one potential use case is that a roaming user could change the active profile on the eUICC to that of a local MNO.
Especially in the IoT environment, changing the SIM card of deployed devices can be a costly process. Being able to change the MNO without having to change the SIM cards assures IoT customers that they can continue running connected services regardless of their relationships with individual MNOs.
While eSIM architecture presents a compelling case, it does come with a price:
eUICC cards need to support multiple profiles and higher computation complexity. This means that the eUICC hardware is more complex than classical SIM cards and hence bears a higher price tag.
To ensure interoperability and security, SM platforms have to be certified by GSMA and hosted at certified locations. Hence, deploying an SM platform requires considerable investment from the operator. These costs might then be passed on to customers.
For an MNO to upload its profile to an eUICC issued and managed by another entity, such as another MNO, the SM platforms of both operators must be connected. Currently, this is an expensive process that requires coordination between the two operators as well as the vendors of the SM platforms. These costs deem the swapping process often to be too expensive for most customers, especially for smaller customers.
EMnify provides its customers with eSIM profiles that can be deployed by the customers through their own SM platform or during the manufacturing process. The EMnify profile can be used as a bootstrap profile or operator profile or both and provides worldwide coverage that enables EMnify customers to connect to the SM platform as well as to any other destination at competitive prices.
Our team of dedicated IoT/M2M experts is available to discuss your requirements and help find the best solution for your IoT project. To find out more, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +49-30-5557-33333.