When the GSMA standardised a new approach to global, future-proofed connectivity in 2016, it created the eUICC standard. However, what is eUICC exactly? It stands for Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card, which is a component of a SIM card that allows for over-the-air (OTA) switching of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).
An eUICC card, or eSIM, works much like a traditional SIM card, but there is no need to swap a physical SIM card in order to use it. It’s important first to understand how a SIM card works to providing a device with connectivity.
SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module and it is the integrated circuit that allows for the secure storage of an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) and its key. These elements create the unique identifier that allows the device to connect to an MNO’s network. A traditional SIM card only hosts a single IMSI, which means a device with a traditional SIM can only connect to that one network. That means if a device needs different connectivity or to another carrier, it creates a significant problem.
Take for instance current news with the 2G/3G sunsets. Any IoT solution where the devices are powered on 2G or 3G networks needs to migrate to 4G LTE. This becomes a massive project that enterprises with operating IoT solutions need to undergo. Many IoT solutions have an ecosystem of hundreds or thousands of devices. Physically swapping out the SIM cards so that the devices can connect to 4G LTE is a major logistical challenge.
Particularly in those solutions that have little tolerance for devices going offline, such as medical solutions or utilities monitoring, much more upfront strategising is required to minimise service disruptions.
The cost, as well, of having to purchase new SIM cards and pay for the personnel to replace the cards in so many devices – that may cover a large geographical area – can be considerable. While 2G and 3G sunsets are ongoing, organisations have had to plan well in advance to tackle such a sizeable challenge.
Traditional SIM cards have historically created difficulties for IoT solutions, however, since it is a very physical, very carrier-specific approach to connectivity.
Another key area that has posed a problem centres around SKUs, or stock keeping units. With multiple SIMs, devices, and MNOs, having to manage multiple SKUs could be burdensome in manufacturing and logistics. Installation, as well, could be an issue with physical installation, as well as testing.
Traditional SIM cards for IoT, ultimately, could be labour-intensive, costly, and significantly slow time to market, which could overall detract from a solution’s ROI or, worst-case scenario, failure to launch.
1FF: The first full-size (1FF or 1st form factor) SIM card was introduced in 1991. This SIM form factor was roughly the size of a credit card.
2FF: The mini-SIM, or (2FF or 2nd form factor) launched in 1996 and was drastically smaller than the 1st form factor SIM. Because of its smaller size, the 2nd SIM form factor was more widely adopted in the mobile phone sector.
3FF: In 2010, due to the continued demand for sleeker mobile phone designs, the micro-SIM – 3FF or 3rd SIM form factor – was released.
4FF: 2012 brought the widespread adoption of smartphones creating high demand for an even smaller SIM, creating the 4th SIM form factor or nano-SIM.
MFF2: often called MFF2 UICC (embedded SIM) is the machine-to-machine form factor. This SIM works like a regular SIM but can be soldered directly onto the circuit board during manufacturing.
The switch to eSIM is often seen as the future of SIM technology and can be in any form factor – embedded or removable.
On the topic of SIM form factor, one of the common misconceptions about eSIM is that it is an entirely removable design. While eUICC does stand for embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card, this technology is actually available in all form factors to meet the unique needs of various IoT devices.
This is one of several common myths or misinformation surrounding eUICC. A few others include:
Consumer and IoT eSIMs are the same: This is incorrect. While both technologies allow for carrier profiles to be provisioned and managed remotely, the manner in which the carrier profile is requested differs. For consumers, it’s the end-user that chooses the desired carrier connectivity and initiates or requests the profile they want to use and pulls that profile from the carrier onto their device. This is typically done on a device-by-device basis and there’s no need for a central overview of multiple devices and their profiles. IoT devices, on the other hand, are managed differently and are controlled remotely by the enterprise end-user. It’s essential that they have a remote way to push and manage required carrier profiles to their IoT device/SIM.
eSIMs don’t provide the required ROI to cover the upfront, higher cost: The increased functionality of eSIM cards means a slightly more complex build, thus a slightly higher upfront cost compared to traditional SIM cards. The cost is only marginally higher, however, and compared to the long-term cost savings, it’s somewhat of a wash. Traditional SIM cards are tied to a single carrier. To change the carrier due to commercial or network shutdowns, end-users are forced to physically swap or upgrade their existing SIMs. The actual cost of procuring and deploying these new devices or SIMs is compounded by the revenue lost from pulling these devices out of the field. So while eSIM costs are slightly more upfront, the long-term investment is justifiable.
While it might be concluded what exactly the benefits of eUICC are, to plainly state them, the benefits are:
Future-proof connected devices: IoT devices that are deployed over a long period of time are protected from the impact of evolving network technologies, sunsets, or service terminations, by eliminating technical or carrier lock-ins with a single eSIM.
Eliminate SIM switching costs: Remote provisioning to different carrier profiles or network technologies enables organisations to eliminate the need to purchase new SIM cards and physically replace legacy SIMs.
Streamline logistics: With no need to physically replace legacy SIMs, organisations can eliminate the process of managing costly and time-consuming truck rolls to dispersed geographic locations.
Maximise ROI on IoT: By reducing costs and improving operational and logistical efficiencies, organisations are empowered to minimise the total cost of ownership of connected devices and maximise ROI on investments.
The benefits of eSIM are the ability to remotely provision and manage for future-proofed, global connectivity without the logistical hurdles that can be found in traditional SIM cards. Some competing technologies might seem to offer the same benefits but have some hidden limitations. It’s important to know which similar technologies are on the market that might seem like eUICC but are not.
Soft SIM: Both eSIMs and Soft SIMs require remote programming capabilities in order to switch operators. In both cases, you can add, remove, or replace SIM profiles without physically swapping the device or module you’re using. With eSIMs, you have a physical chip that holds the SIM profile information. Soft SIMs have no associated hardware. All the SIM-related information is integrated into the device or modem hardware as software. This might pose a security risk because the entire device could be compromised if the SIM is compromised. Plus, the GSMA-initiative IoT SAFE (SIM Applet for End 2 End Security) works with SIM form factors and not in software. IoT SAFE is a means to achieve chip-to-cloud security and be used to help build stronger, more secure IoT infrastructures.
Multi-IMSI: Multi-IMSI connectivity solutions are similar to eSIM in the sense that they are capable of switching to multiple carrier networks. However, with a Multi-IMSI solution, that is achieved by replacing or updating the IMSI within the profile as opposed to downloading a new profile like you can with eSIM. Unlike eSIMs, multi-IMSI solutions are proprietary and have no interoperability among carriers and service providers.
While eSIM has great benefits, it’s not a perfect fit for every IoT deployment. To spend the money and time on an eSIM deployment that isn’t actually needed has little benefit and can be prohibitive to IoT success.
KORE can help you identify whether eUICC or a traditional SIM would work best for your use case through this short eSIM Readiness Assessment quiz.
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