Harnessing the Power of eSIM: How consumer eSIM technology can unlock massive IoT

Last updated: 03 November 2022

2.4 billion smartphone connections are set to use eSIMs by 2025. eSIMS were one of the hot topics at this year’s Mobile World Congress, and we’ve discussed its’ potential a great length on this blog.

Alongside the benefits for consumers, eSIMs present a huge opportunity for massive IOT deployments – providing an efficient means for IoT organisations to achieve resilient global connectivity while streamlining device manufacturing and simplifying deployments.

As this adoption continues to grow, having a clear strategy will be vital to capitalise and make best use of the new opportunities that this technology presents.

Earlier this year, Stephane Quetglas, Director of Marketing for Embedded Products here at Thales, sat down with George Malim, the managing editor of IOT Now, to discuss in greater detail. In case you missed it, you can find highlights from the interview below.

George Malim: Do you think it’s fair to blame cellular connectivity for the delayed deployment of massive IoT?

Stephane Quetglas: Cellular introduces significant differences in comparison to other connectivity technologies; that can hold back some players but in reality there is great potential. There are multiple aspects to cellular adoption and different organisations experience these in different ways. Companies that are used to Wi-Fi, for example, think it is difficult to embrace cellular connectivity because it is new to them. Others find the need to have a subscription with a mobile network operator and having to have a service contract an obstruction. Even those that are comfortable with both these aspects still need to insert a physical SIM into a device that has been manufactured elsewhere and the cost of doing this locally can make IoT use cases unviable.

A solution to this problem is roaming so a global SIM can be inserted at the place of manufacture and the device can then roam when it is deployed. Roaming works for consumers when they travel but it’s often expensive and this is a problem for IoT because the cost can be too high for a given use case.

Is cellular difficult for IoT deployments because it was designed for consumer communications?

No, in fact the technology itself is ideally suited for both IoT and consumer markets but in some new use cases such as the massive IoT market you have simpler devices. A smart water meter that you want to connect in order to remotely collect water consumption data is a far simpler device, costs less and runs for a long time, often ten years, on a battery without recharging. If you wanted to use this in the same way as a smartphone, you’d need to charge the battery every day and this is the reason why low power wide area (LPWA) networks exist and power saving technologies have been developed. Cellular connectivity plays its part here with LTE-M and NB-IoT designed specifically for IoT.

The cellular industry has also put forward embedded SIMs (eSIM) for the past ten years to bring flexibility to the marketplace. You can use an eSIM to avoid relying on roaming because it means you can change your subscription to a mobile operator network at any time. This technology is fantastic in terms of the flexibility it delivers to IoT. It was developed first for M2M applications and its most successful use case to date is in the automotive sector in terms of adoption. Another area of wide eSIM adoption is in consumer electronics with smartphones and smart watches.

The technologies used are similar but not exactly the same because the M2M eSIM has been designed to enable remote management of unattended devices while consumer applications rely on the end user to download the mobile subscription. Now, the next step for the industry is to use eSIM to specifically address massive IoT deployments.

So, what do the companies that deliver IoT services and applications really need?

If you look at the new enterprises that are introducing IoT – the IoT service providers – they need a system that is simple. Some companies have low experience of cellular technologies and are not able to invest a lot of time and money in understanding connectivity. They want to focus on their offerings and their business models, not to become cellular experts.

Flexibility is also important because companies want a choice in terms of connectivity. It could be, for example, that a company has connectivity provided by a certain mobile operator in France while, in the US, it uses another operator. From a device manufacturing process perspective, you would need to manufacture a device that is specific to France and a device that is specific to the US. You would then have to manage new product references and stock-keeping unit (SKU) numbers. That’s a challenge to achieve and it’s hard for companies to predict what volumes of which country-specific device they need. They could end up with huge demand in France but a warehouse full of devices configured for the US market. Having one SKU for all markets is far easier and cost-effective. It’s ideal to have a single SKU in order to simplify manufacturing and logistics.Ima

Companies need flexibility that allows them to pick the right connectivity and avoid roaming charges and be very lean in terms of manufacture.

This interview initially appeared in the Q2 edition of IOT Now.

Want to know more?

Or read the full interview with IoT Now where Stephane discusses the progression of eSIM adoption, and how the Thales Adaptive Connect solution allows Connectivity Service Providers to become true enablers of massive IoT deployments

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