eSIMs:  The Great IoT Connectivity Lockdown

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eSIMs: The Great IoT Connectivity Lockdown

When you move house your devices go with you. It’s not so simple in the global communications world but eSIMs promise to break through the barriers that tie us down.

by Michael Moorfield

With many of us around the world currently locked down in our homes, it’s easy to find time to look around and see how many of your devices are currently connected to the Internet. Maybe it’s your home computer, gaming console, laptop, your TV, children’s tablet, smart speaker, mobile phone, watch – or even your vacuum cleaner and doorbell. Now consider this: what if each of those devices had to be specifically made to order for it to work in your home network? What if all of them were locked forever to your current home network and service provider? If you ever decided to upgrade your network, move to a new house, give a device to a friend, or leave the country, all these products you paid good money for would no longer work.

This would be ridiculous. As customers, we wouldn’t accept it and any connected future where massive numbers of IoT connections could thrive would be a pipe dream. For any product that supports Wi-Fi, this isn’t a real problem today. We all know and rely on the fact that you can configure Wi-Fi network settings and get things connected when your situation changes.

This model of connecting things is completely crazy!

Michael Moorfield, Director of Product Truphone Ltd.

Now, let’s think about outside the home. More and more things around us are getting connected to the Internet. Cars, streetlights, pollution sensors, traffic monitoring, security systems, online delivery lockers, health monitors, parking garages, energy meters, trackers for goods, pets, or your motorbike. All these things are getting smarter and more connected and they all seek to leverage the ease of use, security, and wide availability of mobile networks to make it happen.

Many Devices Remain Locked into a Network

For many of these products, the reality of how easy it is to change networks is very different. These newly connected things will remain locked to a specific mobile network. Forever. They have been specifically manufactured and configured to only ever work with one specific mobile network provider. To me, this model of connecting things is completely crazy. This level of commitment requires nothing short of a crystal ball to know whether these products will work first time when in the hands of customers and continue to work long into the future. If you happen to be wrong, you know the cost to change it will be immense.

A key reason for this method of connecting things lies in the little old SIM card. It’s critical for securely connecting billions of devices around the world to mobile networks. All these new connected products require a SIM card to be pre-integrated into devices or included somewhere along the sales and distribution chain – and once it’s there, it stays forever.

It is clearly untenable that the traditional SIM card be used for scaling billions of connected devices around the world and forcing them to be locked to a specific connectivity provider for their lifetime. It’s for his reason that the Global System for Mobiles Association (GSMA) developed the worldwide standards for eSIM in the first place. Its focus has been to create a smart, rewritable chip that can be as secure as a normal SIM card but allows over-the-air control of a device’s connectivity. Breaking the network-to-device lockdown without needing to be physically there. By using eSIMs, customers have the flexibility to select a contract with their preferred supplier with the confidence that their devices will remain operational even if the connectivity contract expires or fails.

But if it’s so flexible, where are all the eSIMs? In practice, their true benefits are not being felt in the Internet of Things. Many in the industry are still being locked out of using them. Whether network providers are unable to support them or costs are prohibitively expensive, for many, the promised land of eSIMs is being hollowed out.

Building Up Walls Instead of Tearing Them Down

Despite the continued work in tightening standards to explicitly promote interoperability, there is wide evidence of devices being made every day that will remain locked to a specific network provider for ever. In the latest consumer devices such as the Apple iPad and iPhone the tide is turning. Customers can easily download a mobile plan of their choosing over the air and get connected using eSIM without the need for an actual SIM card from a network provider – or a lifelong commitment. For many other IoT devices this is still far from a reality. It’s unfortunate that, in a moment where openness and interoperability have never been more crucial to unlocking revenue, crucial players in the industry have responded by building their walls higher, instead of knocking them down.

eSIMs: The Great IoT Connectivity Lockdown - Smartpone Graphic

With the addition of the eSIMs on Apple’s and Android smartphones, there has been huge growth in eSIM-enabled consumer devices. Today, mobile providers are almost required to provide support to customers who want to take advantage of features such as Dual SIM and connectivity management.

The standardization of eSIM has paved the way to breaking down major barriers in connecting devices to mobile networks. It makes connecting new things easier than configuring your Wi-Fi password at home and provides users with the confdence and assurance that they will remain connected long into the future, whatever happens.

When it comes to connecting things to mobile networks, eSIM is the catalyst for change – we simply cannot reach the full potential of the IoT without it. Predicting the future is hard. Forever is a big ask from anyone and you would be right to fear such a commitment. Don’t wed yourself to one option.

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