Since its introduction, eSIM technology has been lauded as a new step in the evolution of connected gadgets. Arguably the most interesting implications are in the domain of IoT devices, which are expected to receive improvements in reliability, security, and longevity by using embedded chips instead of cards. However, despite being on the market for more than four years, eSIM technology is used predominantly in phones, laptops, and portable modems.
In this article, we’ll look at why eSIM is expected to be the next step in the evolution of IoT devices and why this evolution is still almost nowhere to be seen.
Advantages that Drive IoT Adoption
eSIM technology offers many benefits for IoT devices. Some are incremental improvements that are in line with SIM cards’ evolution, while others are complete game-changers. Below is an overview of the most noteworthy ones. A word of warning, though – many of these are still in the untested theory domain, with some more speculative than others.
The killer feature of eSIM is switching between several profiles by downloading them onto a chip. While a great quality-of-life improvement, to anyone concerned with cybersecurity, this is a glowing warning sign as it suggests the possibility of tampering. Hypothetically, a malevolent party may try to push a profile onto a target device to access it.
To address this risk, GSMA has proposed a layer of protection called SM-DP+. This solution involves verification through an external server, which prevents profile switching from any other device. It’s still difficult to say how reliable the solution is without widespread adoption. Nevertheless, it shows promise in terms of a secure connection.
Digital threats aside, eSIM has a massive advantage that stems from its embedded nature. Unlike a regular SIM card, which is easy to remove, eSIM is hardwired into the device. This makes the device traceable whenever it is turned on, which may actually discourage theft.
eSIM follows the route of miniaturization taken by SIM cards. It is much smaller for starters than its predecessor, measuring around 2.5 by 2.5 mm compared to 12.3 by 8.8 mm for the nano-SIM card. This is not really a fair comparison since we’re talking about a chip versus a card with housing and a connector, but an important factor nonetheless. IoT devices vary considerably in size, which is a valuable asset for many applications:
- Beacons and tracking devices
- Standalone connectivity solutions
- Healthcare devices
Besides its tiny size, the embedded design of eSIM allows getting rid of a slot, which eats up a lot of space inside the gadget, not to mention additional complexity. In this light, the technology removes several restrictions that slow down the growth of the IoT segment.
Aside from being bulky, the SIM card port mentioned above introduces a considerable drawback – it compromises the gadget’s casing’s integrity. This is not an issue for phones, which are gentle devices that need to be handled with care anyway. On the other hand, many IoT gadgets are often exposed to the elements, with some even expected to work in harsh environments. There are a lot of challenges such devices need to withstand:
- Extreme temperatures
- Physical impacts
- Dust and other particles
With eSIM, this is not really an issue since the casing can be made as secure as possible, which will extend the device’s lifespan significantly. Simultaneously, the absence of connectors minimizes the chance of failure or malfunction, further increasing the reliability of the gadget.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the strategic-scale considerations. eSIM uses a single standard that is supported by many carriers and hardware manufacturers. This is a major argument in favor of widespread adoption, especially in fields that are slow at accepting innovation. By extension, this means opportunities for scalability, allowing the deployment of eSIM-powered IoT solutions on a large scale.
Current State of eSIM in IoT
Despite all the advantages, the actual adoption of eSIM in the IoT domain is painfully slow. Currently, eSIM-ready devices on the market are quite rare. Major manufacturers are expressing interest in eSIM solutions for IoT devices, but aside from that, the actual products are only starting to emerge. This can be attributed to several factors:
Novelty: The technology is just four years old – enough for designing a gimmicky gadget but too short for rolling out industry-grade solutions.
Technological challenges: Despite having layers of protection, the technology has not yet stood the test of time to prove its trustworthiness.
Regulation: In addition to being technically standardized, the solution should also comply with local regulations, making it less feasible.
Lack of Vision: The shortage of business models and successful implementation examples takes time to be filled.
As can be seen, nothing of the above is insurmountable. In fact, these are routine challenges to any new solution, some of which are already being addressed.
The Future of eSIM
eSIM technology sounds like a perfect match for IoT devices, offering improvements in security, design, and scalability of solutions. To be fair, most of these advantages are yet to be proven, with actual examples of successful use still in short supply. Fortunately, new attempts are emerging on a daily basis, so while some miraculous promises may be proven false, others will undoubtedly benefit the innovation among IoT devices.