Remote SIM Provisioning challenges: preparing for the massive connectivity burst

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT Connectivity Hub

We already explained in a previous post what eSIMs are in detail. We can briefly summarize the concept as follows: an embedded SIM (or eSim) is a new generation Universal Integrated Circuit Card (called eUICC) that goes beyond previous SIM functionality. The eSIM is physically integrated into the device during the manufacturing process, so it is not a removable item as before. 

Remote provisioning is the ability to remotely change the SIM profile on a deployed eSIM without needing to gain physical access to the device that contains the eSIM. There are currently two SIM provisioning specifications. In both cases, GSMA SIM Specifications simplify the logistic process for the distribution of devices:

  • m2m devices for B2B markets. Robust specification to endure extreme weather, temperature or vibration conditions
  • Consumer companion devices for B2B2C and B2C markets. Designed for use in wearables, tablets, etc. Integrating the UICC in the device itself helps maximize size and form factors.

Embedded SIMs are ready for a new stage in a market that is rapidly growing. Arnaud Danrée, Embedded SIM Product Manager at GSMA, explains that “we are putting forward not only the tools, but the confidence of the ecosystem to support the industry in the adoption of this new technology”.

This ecosystem is formed by more than 80 major industry players (mobile operators, chipset makers, device and solution providers, network specialists, security specialist, etc.). Telefónica plays an active role in the development and adoption of GSMA’s eSIM and SIM provisioning specifications. GSMA Embedded SIM technology is now fully specified and therefore prepared for massive use. 22 operators have committed to launching GSMA Embedded SIM solutions. Certification processes have also been set up to ensure compliance, confidentiality and integrity.

Some use cases still sound closer to science fiction than real life but we have seen user demand exceed mainstream expectations several times. For example a teddy bear could be used not only as a toy but also as a connected baby monitor streaming video and audio in one direction, and lullabies in the other. We are already seeing new interesting applications for health bands, watches or smart glasses where connectivity plays a key role in new features.

A growing scope for Remote SIM provisioning

At first Remote SIMs focused mainly in the B2B field addressing the Automotive, Healthcare, Transport and Utilities markets. The current efforts are focusing towards the Consumer Companion market where Smart watches, wearables, tablets and Smart Consumer Devices are switching from considering aa SIM (in this case, an eSIM) an extended feature to including it as a core feature.

“There are three major eSIM challenges to overcome in the near future for connected products”, says Javier García Puga, Head of Technology in the Global Internet of Things unit at Telefónica:

  1. Global Manufacturing means that most of the devices distributed and sold in the world are centrally produced in one location (normally in the Far East). In the manufacturing stage it is important to provide correct specifications regarding form factor, part number, etc. This will have an impact on size of devices and cost. Current and future standards will gear manufacturers towards smaller eUICC and will simplify critical logistic operations like unifying the eUICC for all regions regardless of where it is finally deployed in the world. Manufacturers will have to strike agreements with operators with global reach in order to make this unifying process feasible.
  2. Local regulation issues may create additional hurdles due to steep roaming costs, or roaming restrictions which would especially affect products that require connecting to the internet in order to work properly.
  3. Managing product lifecycle is another challenge. How many years can we expect a connected product to last? Products with long lifecycles need to have a straightforward method to switch operators upon contract expiration. Being able to hand over subscriptions between MNOs, renew subscriptions or terminate them has to become a straightforward process that does not rely on accessing the device itself.

“To address these challenges the industry must find ways to move away from proprietary SIM platforms. GSMA’s Remote Provisioning Architecture for Embedded UICC Technical Specification v3.1 (released last July) is a step in the right direction”, says García Puga. “This new feature concept permits interoperability between SIM profiles and changing connectivity platforms (known as SM-SR) in a secure and automatic way. This means that Operators are going to be able to deploy embedded SIMs (eUICC) and change profiles remotely. Nonetheless, this is not a solution for all scenarios since management of the same may incur extra costs and be complex. It is essential that the responsibilities of all factors during these processes is maintained.

This new standard permits interoperability between SIM profiles and changing connectivity platforms (known as SM-SR) in a secure and automatic way. This means that Operators are going to be able to deploy embedded SIMs (eUICC) and change profiles remotely. Nonetheless, this is not a solution for all scenarios since management of the same may incur extra costs and be complex. It is essential that the responsibilities of all factors during these processes is maintained, concludes García Puga. So both the benefits and the challenges are daunting. Looking ahead towards the near future, experts agree that a step in the right direction would be to rollout this technology massive, standardising its implementation into the business processes of the Operators, verifying the interoperability of the tools provisioned by the technology providers

[For more information on Remote SIM Provisioning do not miss the on-demand GSMA Webinar with Javier García Puga from Telefónica as one of the featured speakers]

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Telefónica IoT Team