The hardware eSIM, along with eUICC software, is changing the way organizations approach device deployments. Rather than a removable component, the eSIM is embedded in the device and the eUICC allows network operators to send SIM profiles over the air (OTA) — without needing physical access to the device. Manufacturers and Internet of Things providers are making big claims about the efficacy of eSIM and its myriad possibilities for IoT. But practically, what does an IoT deployment with eSIM look like?
First, let’s take a closer look at the benefits the eSIM can offer to IoT deployments.
Recommended reading: eUICC: What it is and how it works
What are the advantages of eSIM for IoT?
Remote (OTA) provisioning flow
The ability to send devices into the field first and provision them with the needed SIM profile later is one of the biggest advantages of eUICC-enabled eSIMs. Depending on the use case, you might not know where in the world your devices will end up, meaning that provisioning them prior to deployment can be tricky. Connected cars are a prime example — when a vehicle rolls off the assembly line, it’s difficult to predict whether it will be shipped across the state or around the globe. The ability to provide each car with the connectivity piece it will need to be able to connect at its final destination allows companies to avoid manufacturing bottlenecks.
With eUICC-enabled eSIMs, companies can scale their IoT projects more easily because they no longer have to plan for SIM card trade-outs, which can be costly. Every device contains the same hardware and software combination, yet it’s adaptable to the network environment where it ends up operating.
For many IoT projects, device flexibility is crucial. M2M devices with traditional SIMs tend to consume more power, while eSIM devices typically enable extended battery life, especially those that operate on LTE-M or NB-IoT network protocols. Devices using eSIM are also typically more compact and better sealed, making them a more appropriate choice for use cases where the device will be deployed outdoors, underground, or underwater.
Streamlined supply chain
Using eSIMs can greatly simplify your supply chain. Sourcing and incorporating traditional SIMs is a physical step in the process that can be eliminated with the addition of eUICC-enabled eSIMs. Because you can send out the needed SIM profile to the devices after they’re deployed, your global supply chain can flow without interruption.
Recommended reading: What is an eSIM and how is it used?
3 steps in eSIM deployment
Now let’s consider how your enterprise eSIM deployment might unfold.
Step 1: Refine your eSIM approach
First, it’s important to evaluate your goals and the needs of the specific use case. For example, consider these variables:
- Will you need to access and remove SIMs, or will they be embedded in the device?
- What is the total expected lifespan of your devices? Will they be deployed outdoors and/or in adverse temperature and weather conditions?
- Will the devices be static (deployed in one place for their entire lifecycle) or mobile (moving from place to place on a connected vehicle, for example)?
Taking the time to answer these questions and build an eSIM strategy that matches your needs will help you future-proof your connected devices against network and location changes and ensure that the technology you choose will last throughout the devices’ lifecycle.
Step 2: Consider eSIM variables
Once you’ve defined the needs of your use case, you can look more closely at your options and determine which approach and provider work best for you. No matter what, you’ll want to choose an eSIM that’s designed for IoT applications and includes OTA programming capabilities up-to-date with GSMA standards. Beyond those basics, here are some options to consider:
- Ruggedized eSIMs (if your devices will be deployed outdoors or in adverse conditions)
- Long-lasting eSIMs (if your devices will be deployed for a decade or more, make sure the hardware is designed to stand the test of time)
- A carrier-agnostic provider (Hologram offers the flexibility to switch between networks around the globe without the need for time-consuming negotiations)
- Access to several cellular technologies and networks (2G, 3G, 4G LTE, and LPWAN options such as Cat-M1, Cat,1, and NB-IoT)
Step 3: Deploy and manage your devices with eSIM
Once you’ve evaluated the needs of your use case and matched them with the eSIM hardware and service options on the market, you can move forward with production and deployment. Before you deploy, ensure that you’re compliant with all government and carrier regulations — and ask your hardware, software, and connectivity providers about their compliance policies. Then, as your solution hits the market, gather feedback from managers and users to make sure you’re hitting the mark and make any adjustments as needed.
With a carrier-agnostic provider like Hologram, you’ll retain the ability to manage devices in the field and receive instant alerts when a problem is detected — for example, if a device loses connectivity, appears outside its expected geographical boundaries, or experiences hardware or software glitches. When you use Hologram Hyper, our eUICC Sim platform, you can easily download new carriers and SIM profiles to your devices, optimizing coverage and costs even after your devices are in the field.
Examples of IoT enterprise deployment with eSIM/eUICC
Now, let’s take a closer look at what IoT deployments with eUICC-enabled eSIMs might look like with Hologram in a couple of different use cases.
Deployment in smart agriculture
Smart agriculture deployments have a unique set of challenges. In our example, the smart agriculture company needs to connect thousands of devices in regions around the world with widely varied network availability. These devices are deployed, in some cases, many miles from the nearest cellular tower and need to be distributed on a large scale to enable the best quality data collection. They also need to withstand all kinds of weather events and temperatures, from rain and snow to heat and humidity.
The devices also need to be manufactured in a single batch, without knowing where in the world they will be shipped. After deployment, devices must sometimes be removed from the field and shifted to different regions, so to make the best use of the hardware, they must be easy to reconfigure.
For this smart agriculture deployment, eSIM meets the challenges. First, the eSIMs are shipped to the smart agriculture company’s manufacturing partner and incorporated into the sensor devices. During the assembly and activation phase, manufacturers install the eSIMs and activate the sensors in a QA test mode. The testing allows quality assurance personnel to connect via local carriers, make sure the devices pass final quality tests, and then hibernate the SIMs for shipment. Meanwhile, project leaders at the smart agriculture company can monitor the testing process from the Hologram Dashboard.
The smart agriculture sensors are shipped to distribution centers and then to farms around the world. When the devices reach their final destinations, project managers can utilize OTA provisioning with eUICC to allow customized carrier and network access depending on local availability. A single profile can have access to multiple carriers in a network, and with a third-party provider like Hologram, that access includes constant additions of new carriers and networks, providing a passport to expand to new areas and situations.
Sometimes, sensors need to be moved from one location to another depending on factors such as growing seasons and evolving needs. When this rebalancing happens, project managers can remotely provision the device’s eSIM with a new profile to fit the network requirements in the new location.
Like provisioning, firmware updates can be delivered remotely, making it simple for IoT managers to keep improving the devices’ capabilities and performance as time goes on.
Agricultural sensors need to be durable. Because the eSIM hardware is sealed inside the device, it’s easier to create sensors that withstand the extreme weather and temperatures that are expected in smart agriculture deployments.
Deployment in mobility
Similar to the smart agriculture deployment, devices installed in micromobility vehicles (e-bikes and scooters) need to be provisioned after they are manufactured as they will be deployed in different urban areas around the world. eSIM provides a flexible solution, allowing managers to deploy carrier settings and firmware updates OTA once the vehicles are in place.
Later, if some vehicles need to be transferred from one fleet to another urban area, the onboard devices can be reconfigured with new settings to match their location and available carrier networks. The flexibility and durability of eUICC-enabled eSIMs make them a great fit for micromobility applications.
Deployment in fleet management
Fleet management is another use case that can benefit from eUICC-enabled eSIM. For example, a global trucking company wants to deploy onboard telematics systems throughout their fleets on several continents. Choosing a solution with eUICC-enabled eSIMs on board allows them to manufacture all the devices at the same time and provision them after they are installed and ready to deploy in specific locations. They can also be remotely updated and reset as needed if the vehicle is later moved to a different area.
What does the future hold for eUICC-enabled eSIM deployments?
For massive IoT deployments, eSIM offers a future-proof technology that can adapt to network changes and sunsets. Because firmware is updated remotely, the eUICC can evolve along with network changes, downloading new security protocols and patches as needed. It provides a constant connection point with the device and its hardware, cutting down the need for in-person device maintenance.
While the promises of eUICC-enabled eSIM are many, some logistical obstacles remain. The GSMA has defined the eSIM standard, but there’s still a lot of confusion around carriers giving their SIM profiles up and integrating with other carriers to enable global connectivity. IoT leaders can avoid these challenges by choosing a partner that’s carrier neutral.
Hologram is the Switzerland of cellular providers — neutral and carrier agnostic. We’re constantly at work to negotiate carrier integration and open up channels for our customers to connect around the world. Our open application programming interface (API) makes it easier to develop the eSIM options you need to automate processes within your ordering system or customer portal. As we continue to onboard new carriers and networks, our goal is to expand the connection possibilities for your IoT deployments.