Author: Ohad Peled, Product Marketing Manager, Sony Semiconductor Israel
It may seem that SIM cards have not evolved much since their launch in 1991. Physical SIM cards are still prevalent in phone devices. However, this is all about to change. Recently, high-end smartphones have started introducing an eSIM – a non-removable version of the good old SIM card. The latest innovation in SIM card functionality is taking the non-removable SIM to the next level, by integrating SIM card functionality directly on the chipset. This implementation is called integrated SIM (iSIM). The value of non-removable SIM cards is now getting recognition all over the industry, due to the clear benefits in security, size and cost. The application of this technology goes beyond phone devices, to smart sensors, meters, and other IoT devices. This post will walk you through everything you need to know about iSIM and its role in the evolving IoT market.
The rise of iSIM for IoT
The use of iSIM for IoT technology is on the rise, according to an online survey conducted by GSMA Intelligence. The survey shows that 77% of device makers and 79% of businesses that have adopted IoT technology are currently using or planning to use Cellular IoT. In addition, 64% of the surveyed suppliers said they are considering adopting iSIM technology as part of their IoT offering.
What is driving this growth?
Experts project the number of cellular IoT connections will reach 2.5B LTE-M and NB-IoT by 2026 (https://www.ericsson.com/en/reports-and-papers/mobility-report).
The goal of iSIM is to remove the drawbacks of the traditional SIM for IoT use cases, reducing the barriers to connection, deployment and go-to-market for IoT devices. iSIM will make it easier for businesses to bring their IoT vision to life.
Manufacturers need to produce devices that consume less power, help optimize the Bill of Materials (BOM) cost, and offer improved security and smaller size devices. iSIM helps OEMs achieve all these goals. This significantly contributes to market growth at such a rapid pace. Counterpoint Research projects that 488 million consumer electronics will support iSIM by 2025. This means that iSIM will soon replace eSIM as the dominant non-removable SIM technology.
What’s the difference between eSIM vs iSIM anyway?
Unlike embedded SIMs (aka eSIMs), iSIMs reside inside the chip. The integrated SIM moves the SIM to a secure part next to the application processor and modem. It is built as a trusted area (Tamper Resistant Element) into a System on Chip (SoC).
One of the advantages of iSIM is a full standardized embedded solution that enables interoperability across different vendors and consistent use by IoT device makers. The GSMA has released all approved GSMA iSIM specifications, integrating eUICC security while respecting SoC specificities. Today, the majority of tier-1 connectivity providers and MVNOs have also joined these efforts and have certified iSIM-based devices.
The interoperability simplifies integrating mobile connectivity into different types of connected devices. It enables operators to leverage existing eSIM ecosystems and can be applied to almost any IoT device.
iSIMs offer a multitude of benefits to OEMs and mobile operators
iSIM technology benefits all stakeholders in the manufacturing chain:
- Mobile network operators benefit from the ease of integration of mobile connectivity into new devices. Due to the miniature size of iSIM, it opens the cellular IoT market to new use cases for smaller, foldable, or flat devices.
- Module makers save operating costs because they don’t need to manage SIM cards. The flexibility of iSIM enables them to serve more markets and regions. Furthermore, using iSim reduces the module bill of material (BOM), easing supply chain constraints and increasing sustainability
- Device vendors that use iSIM benefit from less complexity and reduced cost of ownership (TCO). Additionally, iSIM enables manufacturers to deliver an environmentally friendly solution.
iSIM provides a world of applications for cellular-based IoT devices. From industrial utilities and tracking solutions to consumer-oriented wearables and connected health devices, the use cases will grow as a new wave of innovations appears. One example demonstrating the benefits of iSIM can be found in the world of asset trackers.
Keeping a step ahead of your supply chain
Enforcing traceability of consignments is a key part of the supply chain today. However, engineers face several challenges when it comes to designing an asset tracker that will be truly global. The device needs to authenticate and operate globally, regardless of the operator.
Devices need to operate on battery power for years which means low power consumption is a key element in the product design. iSIM power savings help serve this purpose.
In order to support mass scale adoption, which entails placing asset trackers on each container, pallet, or even product case, the overall cost needs to be low enough to justify the operational efficiencies. iSIM is ideal for asset trackers, providing a highly integrated solution, reducing Bill of Material (BOM) costs.
iSIM is shaping a new IoT future
The growth of IoT devices such as sensors, trackers, intelligent traffic systems, smart meters, and wearables has led to a rise in the demand for cellular IoT technology. With the increasing adoption of 5G technology for the new wave of devices, technologies such as the LTE-M and NB-IoT Cellular LPWA protocols, enable the low-power, wide-area advantage needed for these new devices.
Physical SIM card slots take up precious board space, while eSIM solutions are based on an additional electrical component which not only adds to the cost, but still takes up board space, and is a much less sustainable solution. iSIM combines all these benefits to offer a comprehensive solution simplifying cellular IoT device design efforts, enabling device vendors to focus on their core skills and drive market innovation.
As IoT adoption goes mainstream, users and manufacturers are looking for secure and seamless connectivity to be included in the device as part of the chipset. iSIM provides secure authentication and device identification at a lower cost than other methods.
In traditional SIM technology, each SIM connects to a single network. If a user wants to change networks, they need to change the SIM card. While this is less of an issue for mobile phones, for mass scale IoT devices deployment it becomes a practically impossible task. iSIMs provide operational flexibility, enabling out-of-the-box connectivity.
iSIM technology is the future for IoT. It can be used on a connected device without geographical restrictions, it reduces the costs of materials for manufacturers, is more sustainable and opens a wide range of opportunities for network operators.