Evolution of Cellular IoT Connectivity Towards a Complex and Heterogeneous Landscape

IoT Device Connectivity - Airlinq

The first-ever SIM card came to market almost 30 years ago, and businesses are still using this technology as the most secure communication tool to connect their devices. Since its introduction, the SIM card technology has evolved from single carrier SIM to multi-carrier SIM, primarily for MNOs to expand their international roaming footprint, rapidly piggybacking on other MNOs’ roaming footprints.

The earlier part of this decade has seen continued evolution toward the dynamic switching of carriers in the SIM remotely due to the emergence of the global MVNO business model for emerging use cases like M2M and IoT. The dynamic carrier switching technology enables enterprises to centralize their device manufacturing facilities with the capability to provide the right MNO profile in the device on the fly. Global Connectivity Service Providers created the necessary flexibility to offer customized solutions for enterprises fulfilling the cost, quality of service, and regulatory requirements. Simultaneously, there’s been an emergence of parallel technologies like Soft-SIMs (native device apps acting like a SIM card without a need for real SIM card hardware) and Virtual SIMs (Using a set of SIM cards loaded in a SIM rack with dynamic allocation to devices based on need).

GSMA decided to take this technology forward and came out with Embedded SIM Specification as a single, de-facto standard mechanism for the remote provisioning and management of M2M and IoT connections, allowing the provisioning of an initial operator subscription, and the subsequent change of subscription from one operator to another over the air. The standard evolved from initial version leveraging proprietary technologies to full interoperability among various providers’ solutions in version 3.x. The solution works independently of the form factor of the SIM card either a plug-in form factor (e.g. for a pet collar or a health monitoring device) or embedded form factor (e.g. for a connected car or industrial IoT device).

A parallel GSMA initiative currently gaining momentum is to provide a standard Remote SIM Provisioning Framework allowing consumers to select any MNO profile for his connected devices like a Smart-Watch and seamlessly switch between MNOs directly from the device using a device app.

With 1.3 billion IOT devices with cellular connections are expected to hit market by 2022, some of these devices, like connected cars or connected watches, will have GSMA compliance eUICC (M2M or Consumer) as these domains are early adopters of GSMA eUICC. But there will be millions of other devices serving different needs that will have proprietary solutions like a multi-carrier applet, SoftSIM, Virtual SIM and integrated SOC based UICC function (going forward). Remotely managing each type of SIM needs a unique combination of interface, workflow and bearer support. To make it more complex the ecosystem may be distributed and different components owned by different players e.g. OEM owned SM-SR to manage its eUICCs vis-a-vis MNO owned SM-DP/ SM-DP+ for the subscriptions.

Such a platform should be able to support enterprise’s existing business workflow, enabling a single API based interface while absorbing the complexity of maintaining a repository of heterogeneous profile informations (full profile vs partial profile e.g. IMSI only, local profile vs permanent roaming profile, etc.) and providing seamlessly interoperability with the remote subscription management workflow associated with each type of target devices. This solution will enable the enterprise to support all kind of devices being used to support various use cases e.g. with eUICC, multi-carrier applet, SoftSIM app and integrated SOC based UICC function going forward in with a single integration to this orchestration function and without changing their core business workflow. It can potentially save costs on production, distribution as well as inventory for an enterprise by supporting single SKUs for all devices by enabling a Global provisioning profile and by delaying the provisioning of the real profile till the device is ready for use by end-user. The SIM orchestration function can support a very complex ecosystem of enterprise, MNOs and 3rd party service providers with heterogeneous ownership and associated security framework. As a result, it enables the enterprise to offer pan-country network coverage through multiple MNO partnerships, maximize the retail subscriber base by attracting subscribers from multiple MNOs or even bring their existing subscriptions as shared device plan, act quickly on increasing cost or reducing quality of services by seamless switching between MNOs and increase revenue by offering additional service by leveraging the valuable device and subscription data.

Airlinq offers a robust cloud-based IoT SIM Orchestration platform fully integrated with Airlinq IoT Connectivity and Application Enablement platform, offering all the functions mentioned above and much more.


Vaibhav Vijay

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