Today’s cold chain is full of cautionary tales. Here’s just one: In the spring of 2022, New Zealand’s Southern District Health Board inspected a major provider of COVID vaccines for the Queenstown region. The company’s accreditation was up for review. Without renewal, it would face the collapse of its distribution program for vaccines, a serious problem for anyone in the vaccination business.
The company distributed Pfizer vaccines, which, at the final stage of their journey, must stay within 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 and 8 degrees Celsius). That’s after a trip in an ultra-cold shipping container, kept below -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 degrees Celsius). Was this vaccine provider able to meet these strict requirements?
We don’t know, and neither did the inspectors. That was a problem. The company’s staff failed to adequately track temperatures in their local refrigerators. The company lost its accreditation. The Southern District Health Board had to contact 1,500 people who might have received spoiled doses. A lot of people suffered, and so, presumably, did the vaccine supplier’s bottom line.
All of that could have been prevented with a reliable, IoT-based condition monitoring system. The cold chain runs on data, even more so than a typical logistics path. You must know if temperature changes affect food, beverages, or medicine. You need to know that temperature data real time, so you can react before disaster strikes. You might also need to monitor air quality, asset location, and incidents of tampering. It’s all possible with IoT asset tracking.
But even the finest asset-tracking solution runs into a connectivity problem when it operates across regional and national borders. That problem—the challenge of always-on connectivity, so essential for effective cold chain IoT—requires another solution. And it’s a solution that sits at the heart of the cellular IoT device itself: the subscriber identity module (SIM).
“…the challenge of always-on connectivity, so essential for effective cold chain IoT…requires another solution. And it’s a solution that sits at the heart of the cellular IoT device itself: the subscriber identity module (SIM).”-TEAL
The Connectivity Challenge for a Global Supply Chain
By their nature, asset-tracking devices travel. They sit in shipping containers, trailers, or parcels. And to reliably report on temperatures, they have to maintain connectivity as they move. In other words, global travel requires global connectivity. That typically means cellular IoT. Satellite connections are great as a backup, but they’re usually cost-prohibitive when used for condition-monitoring data at scale. When a reefer trailer moves across national or regional borders, it travels through many cellular networks. It must connect to each one in turn. That’s a technical challenge that can’t be solved by a traditional SIM.
See, the traditional SIM only connects to a single mobile network operator’s (MNO’s) network. You contract with, say, AT&T or Verizon, and your SIM grants access to that one network. But even these giant MNOs don’t operate everywhere. In an international market, refrigerated cargo is almost certain to leave a single MNO’s coverage area.
The old solution to this challenge was roaming. One MNO establishes a roaming deal with another. Then, your home MNO offers you access to the distant one. But these arrangements run on lots of money, and you end up paying a hefty premium for the roaming service. Besides, many nations limit long-term roaming (a practice known as permanent roaming). Some don’t allow permanent roaming at all.
What you really need is access to every network across your device’s travel path. That’s not something you can typically set up on your own, and it’s not possible with a SIM tied to a single network. Cold chain monitoring devices need a SIM that can connect to all of them, creating a constantly updating network of networks. That requires a different type of SIM altogether.
The Solution for Cold Chain Connectivity: eSIM with OTA Profile Updates
At the simplest level, eSIM refers to an embedded SIM card, differentiating it from the traditional, removable SIM. But true eSIM runs deeper than form factor. To be considered proper eSIM technology, the solution must meet GSMA standards for embedded universal integrated circuit cards (eUICCs). This computing architecture allows the eSIM to store multiple user profiles for your cold chain—or, more specifically, multiple international mobile subscriber identities (IMSIs).
When your device has multiple IMSIs, it can connect to multiple networks without roaming. That’s the secret to always-on cellular connectivity for the global cold chain. But there’s one more capability you need to keep these connections reliable.
You probably won’t have the staff, time, or money to establish relationships with every MNO a cold chain needs. Instead, look for a cellular connectivity provider that offers eSIM with over-the-air (OTA) updates for local network profiles.
Rather than pre-loading the eSIM with an IMSI for every network your device passes through, these OTA profile updates automate local connectivity. When a device enters a new network coverage area, it downloads the local network’s credentials. That leads to quick, local connections—which means you never miss a temperature update, even in a globe-spanning cold chain.
eSIM With OTA
To bring this dependable cellular connectivity to your cold chain monitoring device, look for a provider that has existing agreements with thousands of MNOs across hundreds of countries and ask for eSIM with OTA profile updates. With a connectivity partner like that, you can help to ensure everything from medicine to poultry arrives safely, no matter the cold chain’s path.