How can enterprises benefit from eSIMs?
While eSIMs have been around for about a decade, general familiarity with the technology is not that widespread.
Apple’s announcement that the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro will be its first eSIM-only phones has certainly sparked wider interest in the technology and its benefits, although the US company has already been providing dual-SIM support, including for a physical SIM and an eSIM, from the iPhone XS onwards.
An eSIM is designed to load new carrier profiles digitally, over the air, which means you no longer need to physically swap SIM cards in your devices. An eSIM can essentially replace a physical SIM in all manner of connected devices, from the smallest wearable gadget through to smartphones and connected cars.
Tobias Goebel, product marketing manager, IoT at Twilio, further explains that an eSIM is “any piece of hardware that runs an application called eUICC, which has storage to hold multiple SIM profiles at the same time”.
For enterprises, the advantages of eSIM technology are cited as enhanced flexibility, convenience, speed and sustainability compared to traditional, physical SIM cards. As an example, a business traveller wishing to keep control over roaming costs can switch to a different profile on the eSIM in their phone without the need to physically insert a SIM from a local carrier.
Aside from this straightforward use case however, how else can enterprises benefit from this digitised version of the traditional SIM card?
According to Yuval Mayron, general manager for Internet of Things (IoT) at Amdocs, the focus for the enterprise is on both flexibility and security, “whether that’s remotely managing employee connectivity or locking a profile to a specific device to avoid fraud. Enterprise mobility management (EMM) and mobile device management (MDM) will be two key drivers of enterprise eSIM adoption.”
Mayron cites Orange Belgium, with support from Amdocs and partner Giesecke+Devrient (G+D), which is enabling its enterprise customers to order, activate and manage eSIMs on its employees’ devices as a typical case-in-point.
Unlocking the eSIM for IoT
The eSIM is of course an increasingly essential component of IoT business cases. John Marcus, principal analyst at GlobalData, noted that when it comes to IoT, “the appeal of eSIM solutions is in connecting moveable objects or a set of widely distributed fixed objects where service provider coverage is inconsistent, but where availability and uptime are critical to maintaining a customer-facing service.”
However, there are two non-competing architectures of eSIM: one for consumer device profiles, and one for M2M or IoT profiles. The essential difference is that the former assumes the presence of a person, while the latter assumes that eSIM profile management is controlled remotely.
According to BICS, which provides global eSIM connectivity, enterprises have struggled to adopt eSIMs for IoT devices, such as smart meters or smart appliances, due to the level of integration required with mobile operators.
As explained by Luc Vidal-Madjar, head of M2M/IoT business at BICS, eSIM for IoT is extremely complicated because it requires mobile operators to integrate their respective eSIM provisioning systems (SM DR and SM DP). As things stand, the GSMA eSIM Work Group 7 is currently focused on adapting eSIM technology for IoT, reusing the principles of the eSIM for the consumer devices framework and ultimately avoiding the need for back-end integration.
“It’s a very big change”, Vidal-Madjar said, noting that the new standard should be ready in 2023, with the first commercial solutions then expected in 2024.
In the meantime, BICS has partnered with France-based Thales to provide an interim solution called eSIM Connectivity Activation that aims to remove barriers to eSIM adoption within IoT devices.
“Thales anticipated the shift in eSIM technology very early. They are about two years ahead,” Vidal-Madjar said. “Unlocking eSIM use in this way will be a critical step in supporting bigger and bolder global IoT deployments.”
Vidal-Madjar added that about 25% of the SIM cards that BICS sells currently are eSIMs but acknowledged that the volume needs to rise to at least 75% to ensure the adoption of massive IoT.
Amdocs’ Mayron also noted that while eSIM is at a very early stage, “in time it will accelerate the connectivity revolution we’re living through. There will be billions of machine-to-machine/IoT connected devices that will move to eSIM in the next decade. The plastic SIM is not a sustainable technology and the move to digital is inevitable”..
Connected cars, and more besides
Marcus from GlobalData and others particularly pointed to the connected car as “a key use case of eSIMs, where the auto maker, with the help of a connectivity provider, can manage customer services across dozens or potentially hundreds of countries to carry out diagnostics and deliver infotainment services.
For example, Deutsche Telekom is supplying integrated eSIMs, customer portal, and connectivity in 50 countries to luxury car maker Automobili Pininfarina.
German carmaker BMW is also equipping its connected cars with two eSIM cards using technology from Giesecke+Devrient. One card will be used for eCalls, navigation or traffic information services, while the other will be for private information and entertainment services.
Andreas Morawietz, head of portfolio strategy lifecycle management and connectivity in G+D’s IoT division, highlighted several other areas that would benefit from eSIM technology, including private 5G networks.
For instance, a manufacturing location could use eSIM management “to interact with devices that are active within the private network”, such as robots, drones, forklift trucks and more. “Managing cellular connectivity is key here,” he said.
Morawietz also described how a manufacturer could use eSIM management to temporarily add a rented container or truck to the private mobile network, then remove it once the project has been completed.
For its part, G+D is working with a German mobile technology specialist VITES on the development of eSIM-enabled private networks for disaster relief. VITES has implemented an eSIM management solution from G+D to speed up response times by emergency services in the event of an accident or natural disaster, such as the recent floods in Germany.
Morawietz also pointed to the flexibility offered by eSIM-enabled devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops that enterprises could use in a post-pandemic working environment. A company CTO could then “easily onboard new employees to the enterprise network”, he said, even when the employee is working from home.
John Canali, senior analyst at Omdia, noted that mobile health devices are another big area of growth, for example. “If you use, say, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, you don’t want to have to think about connectivity when you travel to another US state or another country,” he said.
Another relevant use case is asset tracking, where connected devices are moving across the global supply chain. “You can use hardware SIMs with global roaming if you have a clearly defined footprint that your provider can support, but if you need to support connectivity across your customers’ own disparate logistics networks, and you want to do more than basic GPS tracking, then eSIM makes sense,” said GlobalData’s Marcus.
Twilio’s Goebel also notes that if a company is deploying a fleet of IoT devices internationally, such as asset or fleet trackers, and they are cellular connected and eSIM-enabled, “you no longer have to worry about buying SIM cards, getting them shipped and clearing customs, managing that inventory of physical SIMs, and having a process in place for swapping SIMs when needed”.
In summary, as the technology evolves and matures, the potential opportunities that enterprise could unlock through the adoption of eSIM are manifold, both in terms of IoT business cases and services that could be linked to different profiles on a device.
Further down the line, there is the Integrated Universal Integrated Circuit Card (iUICC), more commonly known the integrated SIM or iSIM. While the eSIM still requires a dedicated chip soldered to the device’s circuit board, an iSIM is integrated into a device’s main processor and thus takes up less space. Vodafone, Qualcomm Technologies and Thales have already joined forces to demonstrate a working smartphone featuring iSIM.
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