By the end of this year, Gartner predicts there will be 5.8 billion enterprise and automotive IoT endpoints globally in 2020 — an increase of over a fifth from 2019. For context, that is 2.3 billion more IoT endpoints than there are smartphone users. This is not surprising, given the term ‘endpoint’ can mean any ‘thing’ within the Internet of Things ecosystem. From personal gadgets and home-based tech, through to logistics, manufacturing, and other industrial sectors, this means connected vehicles, hand-held devices, wearables, tracking devices, energy meters, remote monitoring devices, and more. Clearly, mass IoT is very much on its way to becoming a reality, and the demands from both end-users and the connectivity infrastructure to support it are on their way to being fully realised. When they are, we will be able to achieve the IoT’s full promise, benefitting operators, enterprises, and consumers alike.
Security, switching, and flexibility
For any company launching an IoT proposition, there are three important demands to consider. Unsurprisingly, the first is security. Securing IoT devices – where a $1 sensor can be connected to a billion-dollar network – is crucial in today’s connected world, and is becoming increasingly important due to tightening regulations around device security. At the beginning of 2020, for example, California’s IoT Security Law came into effect. It was the first piece of legislation of its kind in the US, and pushes device manufacturers to adopt cyber security standards during the product development and design stages where none have existed before. Around the same time, the UK government announced it would be moving forwards with regulation on consumer IoT device security.
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The second demand connected devices have is the ability for the ‘thing’ to switch network providers. IoT devices need global, always-on connectivity, or they will stop working abroad. For example, logistics firms need to track the movement of fleets of vehicles that are transporting devices across borders, requiring seamless roaming connectivity. And device manufacturers need to ensure that their IoT devices will be out-of-the-box ready, enabling end users to connect the device to any network, wherever they are in the world, as soon as they receive their device or shipment of devices. The answer is multiple operator profiles, which need to be stored on a single device simultaneously, to allow end-users to store and switch between them remotely.
The third important element for the IoT lies within the flexibility and choice in the type of connectivity. With the IoT encompassing a huge range of industries, businesses and use cases, and the requirements of devices for each differ massively. Some will be supported by 2G, 3G, 4G and later 5G, but others will be better supported by alternative types of connectivity. This includes LPWAN technologies like NB-IoT, which enable devices to communicate over large areas whilst using very little power. This efficient, sustainable and cost-effective technology has been earmarked as the facilitator of machine-to-machine connectivity and will be crucial for the evolution of industrial IoT and smart city applications, including agritech, smart meters, and automated manufacturing. Today’s device manufacturers and business users need the choice and flexibility.
The resurgence of e-SIM technology
All three of these demands can be met via the adoption of e-SIM technology, and for security in particular – which for many is the top priority – this is one of the major benefits. This latest iteration of the ubiquitous SIM card, which has played a fundamental role in mobile telecommunications for over a quarter of a century, enables the SIM to be downloaded into a ‘Secure Element’ that can be permanently embedded inside any type of device, or thing. eSIMs can act as an authenticating party between the hardware device and service platform, to ensure end-to-end, chip-to-cloud security. Data can then be encrypted to protect against loss, theft, or tampering, with encryption available via zero-touch provisioning.
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Mobile industry body, the GSMA, backs the technology, and to further its adoption has created an ecosystem of trusted platforms and players. But it is not just the GSMA that’s advocating for eSIM. In January this year, Ericsson launched a fully-automated e-SIM solution to drive communication service providers’ topline and an improved consumer experience. The launch included new use cases based upon data that revealed consumers are ready to take the next step and pay for e-SIM services, including adding additional connected devices to their existing bundle.
In addition, in September 2020, UK mobile network Three announced it was looking to launch e-SIM support. And in the US, AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless all support e-SIM, while other networks started selling e-SIM data plans that work across 80 countries including in Europe, the Americas and Australasia.
The operators’ opportunity
This is the second wave of e-SIM hype. The initial industry hype a couple of years ago around the embedded version of the SIM card did not live up to preliminary expectations, in large part because the supply was there, but the demand was not. However, we are now seeing a resurgence, due to the demand increasing as IoT technologies mature and more – different – industries enter the IoT, and security increases due to legislation.
An increasing number of operators too, are beginning to realise the cost benefits of these types of connections, opening up their networks to unlock the advantages of bundled, multi-device subscription plans, and new revenue opportunities, which is further driving demand.
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However, e-SIM as a technology is not enough. To meet the demands of today’s end-users, e-SIM needs to be supported by global IoT connectivity with low latency and robust security, for a seamless, secure user experience, wherever in the world the device or ‘thing’ is.
Earlier this year, technology solutions provider Avnet Silica took steps to provide its OEM and device-manufacturing customers with instant embedded connectivity across 2G, 3G, 4G, NB-IoT and LTE-M/Cat-M1. Accelerating the deployment of LPWAN by solving many technical, operational, and commercial challenges, players like Avnet are helping hardware manufacturers deploy new IoT solutions around the world.
The connectivity demands of the IoT may be increasing. But with flexible technologies like e-SIM delivering benefits to operators, OEMs and end-users alike – and, thanks to regulations, doing so in the most secure way possible – these demands will be met and will make way for mass IoT to become a reality.