The Great IoT Connectivity Lockdown

May 11, 2020

5 Min Read

Written by Michael Moorfield. Director of Product, Truphone

How eSIM breaks down barriers to connect

With many of us around the world currently locked down in our homes, it’s easy to find time to look around and think of just how many devices around you 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—even your vacuum cleaner and doorbell all have the capacity to connect to the internet.

Now consider this. What if each one of those devices had to be specifically made to order for it to work in your home network? And that each one of those products was 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 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 pipedream.

For any product that supports WiFi, this isn’t a real problem in the world today. We all know and rely on the fact that you can configure WiFi network settings and get things connected when your situation changes.

But now let’s think about outside our 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.

For many of these products, however, the reality of how easy it is to change networks is very different.

For many of these newly connected things, they 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 this reason that the GSMA developed the global 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. All without needing to be physically there.

By using eSIM, customers have the flexibility to select a contract with their preferred suppliers 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, the true benefits of eSIM are not being felt in the Internet of Things. Many in the industry are still being locked out of utilising them. Whether network providers are unable to support them, or costs are prohibitively expensive, for many, the promised land of eSIM is being hollowed out.

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 forever.

In the latest consumer devices such as the Apple iPad and iPhone however, the tide is turning. Customers can now 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.

However, 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.

The standardisation of eSIM has paved the way to break down major barriers in connecting devices to mobile networks. It makes connecting new things easier than configuring your WiFi password at home and provides users with the confidence 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. Explore and set your devices free.



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