How eSIMs enable global IoT deployments

4 mins read

Companies distributing IoT-connected products internationally need a simple, consistent and cost-effective way of ensuring secure connectivity in each market.

Fitting a SIM specific to each mobile network operator at the point of manufacture, or after shipping, makes for both complicated and expensive processes. eSIMs, however, offer a compelling alternative for streamlined production and distribution and better cost management of global internet of things (IoT) deployments.

With traditional cellular connectivity, a mobile handset contains a SIM that can be swapped out quickly and simply to connect to another network operator. That isn’t the case with the IoT where connected devices may be deployed in their thousands, or hundreds of thousands, all over the world.

Companies want to manufacture products such as robotic lawnmowers, cars with connected services, vending machines and e-scooters, distribute them and know that those products will connect to relevant networks in the countries where they are sold.

Other companies have global deployments of machine-to-machine (M2M) implementations, such as metering and monitoring devices in the energy and utilities sector.

Wind and solar farms are in hard-to-reach places - a managing company would be put off negotiating potentially better deals with other mobile network operators if they had to physically visit sites to change SIMs.

IoT deployment challenges

So, what are the challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to global IoT deployments?

The first challenge of a global IoT deployment is to know where products or devices will be shipped to. However, when a company launches a new product range, it’s not uncommon not to know the full extent of the markets it will expand into. When the SIMs in products are operator specific, it must cater for this uncertainty in delivery plans and partner relationships.

Even when market plans are known, companies want a single stock keeping unit (SKU) for all products. A SIM for each market where products are going means multiple SKUs and the production line having to insert the right SIM.

Alternatively, and more likely, it also means there will be a need for late-stage connectivity provisioning with region-specific SIMs added to devices once they reach their destinations.

In both cases, this is inefficient, potentially error-prone, and an expensive way to manage stock. It is preferable to have a single SIM for device connectivity. However, with traditional SIMs that would mean accepting global roaming packages which can be extremely expensive, tie the customer into a contract and be fraught with problems. In this scenario, the enterprise is contracted to the ‘home’ mobile network operator and cannot influence which network they connect to through the roaming arrangement – that is the preserve of the operator. That can mean paying premium roaming charges.

Also, IoT deployments, in contrast to roaming mobile phones which spend a short time in the country being visited, are more permanently based away. That can mean they fall foul of permanent roaming restrictions or prohibitions that exist in some markets.

How do eSIMs help?

An eSIM enables over-the-air (OTA) provisioning of a mobile network operator’s credentials onto the SIM and eSIMs, embedded into products or devices at the point of manufacture, can store more than one SIM profile.

Mobile network operator profiles can be pre-loaded or downloaded OTA at a later point in time after products have been shipped to their international destinations. In this more efficient scenario, the company has a rules engine to administer connectivity according to business logic that defines which network products or devices connect to.

In contrast to roaming SIMs, a remotely programmed eSIM uses local networks at local rates for the most cost-effective running costs.

eSIMs avert the need to have separate SKUs for products that may be distributed in their thousands, or hundreds of thousands. The expense that can add to managed distribution through warehousing and friction in logistics processes can be considerable.

Plus, eSIMs open up the opportunity to change mobile network providers over time, bringing flexibility to the global IoT by enabling operator profiles to be deployed at any stage of a product’s lifecycle.

That could be on the manufacturing line, when products are deployed, or even years later to take advantage of new commercial arrangements, or to contract with a mobile network operator who has just entered the market. In this way, eSIMs give enterprises negotiating power over the lifetime of the devices they have in the field, and the opportunity to capitalise on attractive new deals.

All these advantages make the eSIM a powerful solution for delivering IoT connectivity around the world. eSIM technology can help solve the issue of connectivity for IoT products and devices, taking complexity out of manufacturing and distribution processes.

Getting started

Companies considering eSIM for their global IoT deployments will need to think about the modules that go into the devices as they must be compatible with the Bearer Independent Protocol (BIP).

They must also think about the radio technology that will be used. Then there are considerations around the chosen networking technology – CAT-M (or LTE-M), LTE CAT-1 and so forth. Lastly, the countries of deployment should be considered, in order to verify that operators in those regions support eSIM. If they don’t in all cases, workarounds may be possible.

A distributed network, with gateways around the world, is important too so that network traffic isn’t routed through the ‘home’ market.

Companies should discuss all these things with their IoT connectivity platform provider, as they will be able to advise on the best approach to take. A full-service provider will be able to orchestrate most, if not all, eSIM services from provision to integration and management. That frees up the enterprise to focus on its core business, rather than having to invest time and expertise to manage the technical aspects of IoT connectivity and potentially make mistakes which could be costly to the business.

Ultimately, the business goals of the company’s IoT deployment should be the priority, not the networking and technology solution. The technical solution must enable the enterprise to successfully rollout connected devices to help it achieve its commercial and operational objectives.

Accelerating the global IoT

eSIMs can boost global IoT deployments by providing a simpler, more efficient, scalable and cost-effective way to connect products and devices in international markets.

A traditional operator-specific SIM, together with potentially late-stage connectivity provisioning, is an uncertain way to manage global deployments. It causes problems for companies expanding into new markets at speed and adds cost and complexity through the need to manage multiple SKUs.

It also ties enterprises into connectivity tariffs as switching operators once products have been deployed is an expensive, labour-intensive undertaking.

eSIMs, in contrast, streamline global rollouts as operator profiles can be provisioned remotely. They help enterprises achieve more predictable manufacturing costs through a single SKU and more control over the in—life connectivity costs they will pay. Through eSIMs, companies no longer have to decide whether to manage the inconvenience of multiple SKUs, or the complexity of roaming restrictions, when neither choice is desirable. 

eSIM technology can give companies the confidence they need to commit to global IoT deployments. It helps overcome what has been a hurdle of connectivity for IoT project managers and application developers.

With OTA mobile network provisioning, companies can deploy their applications quickly, avoid single vendor lock-in, avert the problem of permanent roaming restrictions, and switch profiles when they need to for logistical, commercial, or technical reasons without physically changing SIMs. 

Author details: Paul Bullock, head of MVNO, Wireless Logic