David Traynor, CMO Aspider-NGI: support for eSIM is growing

Friday 18 August 2017 | 11:42 CET | Background
The eSIM standard emerged initially for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, as many M2M applications run on a device that accesses the mobile network through a Sim card. The actual electronics (and Sim cards) in these devices are sometimes difficult to access -hermetically sealed, located across the world's oceans or inside fleets of vehicles. That makes it difficult to swap a Sim card. The eSIM was initially developed to solve this problem by allowing new operator profiles to be added to the Sim card using over-the-air software updates. The user owns the Sim card and can decide which operator profiles are present on the card. Additionally, the user can decide to add or remove applications and has full control of security and authentication keys.

That's why the eSIM is ideally suited to the Internet of Things, says David Traynor, CMO at ASPIDER-NGI. It is also quite a cultural change for many telecom operators, going from traditional multi-year contracts with high margins to a flexible model in which businesses use mobile networks for mission-critical processes. For example, many devices in the IoT ecosystem have a life span of more than ten years, whilethe costs of a seemingly simple SIM-swap can reach up to 75 euros per device. Using eSIM can help reduce these costs  and simplify logistics. 

eSim eConnect

The market changes mean eSIMs have yet to make a major breakthrough, but we are already seeing early innovators deploying the technology. Recently, ASPIDER-NGI and SURFnet signed a partnership for the development of an eSIM for identity management and authentication, in order to provide integrated physical access control and payment solutions. Last year, SURFnet, together with the Association of ICT and Telecommunication Large Users (BTG) and ASPIDER–NGI, successfully demonstrated migrating a mobile line from one operator to another without changing the SIM card.  

This year ASPIDER-NGI also delivered its eSIM eConnect to Oberthur and Teraki to improve automotive data transmission efficiency, and at the end of June ASPIDER-NGI partnered with OT-Morpho, part of Oberthurand  a specialist in digital security and identification technologies, to boost eSIM applications. ASPIDER-NGI's intention is to offer eSIM eConnect as a fully automated web service, simplifying subscription management, service management, usage and billing. A general release of eSIM eConnect is planned for later this year.

Other applications for eSIM are within the reach of businesses and consumers. Enterprises can simplify mobile management through eSIM;: for example, by using eSIMs for their mobile services, businesses can tender and change operators without requiring a SIM-swap. The GSMA has been working on standardization of eSIMs since 2015 and last year announced a specification allowing remote users to activate eSIMs in devices such as smartwatches, fitness bands and tablets. 

Some sectors have taken proprietary approaches, such as Apple's development of its own sim card (Apple Simplified Apple Sim) a few years ago. This allows users to choose from a number of operators that work with Apple. Last year, the expectation was that the eSIM would be much more common in 2017 due to the rapid rise of IoT applications, but not all players have adopted the eSIM.

The need for mutual trust

"There is certainly some reluctance from some mobile operators, but I think this is more related to traditional telephony than IoT applications,” said Traynor. “Using eSIM for IoT deployments is gaining massive momentum and support from the whole industry (including all the way up to the tier 1 operators). We are also seeing that many players are realizing that eSIM is less about operator selection – and more about the ownership of the applications on the eSIM. Access and control over the SIM allows the enterprise to manage applications and security on the SIM." 

According to Traynor, the eSIM is a prerequisite for the ability to roll out and manage cost-effective IoT projects. As the IoT market continues to grow, players need to protect their investments in connectivity; eSIM deployments are steadily increasing and mutual trust grows as the projects focus more on new consumer, commerce and industry initiatives.

"Much depends also on the market and application: automotive connectivity has very different requirements for eSIM than providing connectivity to international travellers. It is therefore important that the industry thinks more about the evolution of standards not only to deal with operator selection, but for enterprise ownership and control of the applications on the Sim card," said Traynor.

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