iSIM Technology: What it is and why is the technology needed?

Last updated: 09 February 2023

In our previous blog, we discussed the latest evolution in SIM technology – the Integrated SIM (iSIM). In this blog post, we’ll be delving in deeper to what the key market drivers behind this technology are, how iSIMs solve these problems, how it leverages eSIM technology and the market innovators leading the way.

What are the key market drivers for iSIM technology?

Consumers and IoT device makers alike share similar expectations to design products that connect to cellular networks, with a need for:

  • Optimization of design and materials: there is a need to save on space to allow for flexibility when it comes to design
  • Power consumption: lower power consumption to accommodate the battery-powered devices and offer longer lifetime to consumers
  • High level of security: to protect not only the device but the end user and the data stored on the cloud. Cybersecurity needs to be baked into the design
  • Ease of testing and enablement of the cellular feature: to reduce time to market and production lead-time, and facilitate the move from non-cellular technology
  • Flexible management of connectivity: the ability to efficiently provision the cellular connectivity where the SIM functionality is embedded into the device

How does the iSIM address these needs and enhance eSIM solutions?

The iSIM supports the same Remote SIM Provisioning capabilities as the eSIM. The GSMA has completed and published the standardization of the iSIM, also known as integrated eUICC (ieUICC), for both the consumer and IoT Remote SIM Provisioning specifications.

The iSIM also helps reduce the Bill of Materials (BOM), whilst simplifying and enhancing the design of an eSIM-enabled device. Making use of advanced technology nodes improves power consumption, without compromising processing power.  The iSIM offers the same security assurance as the SIM and eSIM by adopting the same security evaluation level and methodology, while taking into account the specifics of an integrated enclave. This is essential to ensure large scale, multi-country, interoperable deployments.

Secure personalization is an important factor to the overall security of the iSIM. To free device manufacturers from the burden of security management, a new personalization scheme has been introduced. 2-step personalization consists in the collaboration between the iSIM vendor and the SoC vendor allowing device makers to embrace iSIM without needing to have their factories certified by the GSMA.

The growth of IoT will mainly come from massive roll-out of low power devices – OEMs will mostly benefit from the lower BOM and power consumption. RSP technology will also need to be adapted to further simplify the addition of eSIM to low power cellular devices: the reduction of the subscription profiles in size and the use of the consumer RSP technology instead of M2M are the 2 most promising evolutions. The iSIM is an ideal solution to implement the new SGP.31/32 IoT standard published by GSMA.

Unlike IoT, consumer devices typically host a wealth of services that require security and privacy to protect end users. The iSIM for consumer devices is based on a framework that will be able to support not only connectivity with a RSP capable SIM functionality but also other services like transportation, payment and ID.

Alongside the benefits for consumer devices, the Trusted Connectivity Allice has also highlighted some industry use cases of iSIM functionality:

Utilities: Smart water and gas meters require reliable, robust security and long battery life to ensure that readings are continuously connected and protected. iSIM solutions could offer significant power-saving benefits, and provide assurances to utility companies that the chip cannot be removed.

Logistics: In global supply chains, there is an increasing requirement for real-time information to support logistics at all levels. Smart labels enabled with iSIM functionality can be leveraged for near real-time monitoring with LPWAN connectivity. This will allow suppliers to track large quantities of goods and take immediate action if needed.

Leading innovation in the iSIM market

At Thales, we’ve long been at the forefront of iSIM technology in:

2018: we announced a collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies to integrate eSIM innovation into the Snapdragon mobile platform. In 2019, Qualcomm 855 becomes the first mobile SoC to receive smart card equivalent security certification.

2021: we received the world’s first 2-step personalization GSMA SAS-UP certification for integrated products.

2022: we delivered the world’s first smartphone demonstration of iSIM technology alongside Vodafone and Qualcomm Technologies. We have also partnered with two major IoT chipset makers targeting commercial products in 2023.

Our iSIM solution, with our partner Qualcomm, works just like an eSIM, to ensure it remains compatible with existing GSMA Consumer RSP server platforms and subscription profiles. It is designed to support additional services in the future to ultimately provide better, more secure services to end users and more business opportunities to mobile network operators and service providers.

The goal is to provide a true integrated SIM that is GSMA certified and compliant with the GSMA standards so our customers can enjoy a flexible, single SKU with a low cost, low power design.

Our vision is to foster the adoption of eSIM and the digitalization of subscriptions in all cellular devices.

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