IoT eSIM specification gets new version

Sheila Zabeu -

June 29, 2023

The GSMA, the global organisation that unifies ecosystems around mobile connectivity, announced last May a new version of the eSIM specification for the Internet of Things (IoT), SGP.32 v1.0. But what does this mean in practice?

First of all, it is necessary to comment on the importance of eSIMs for IoT. Unlike traditional SIM cards that are similar structures to those used in mobile phones, eSIMs (embedded SIMs) are soldered into the circuitry of devices and can be remotely configured to change carrier or mobile network, without the need to physically change the card. In addition, it can be factory installed or even deployed globally and configured according to where it will be installed. This translates into considerable flexibility for large-scale or regionally distributed IoT deployments.

Previously, besides the eSIM specification for the consumer market, there was talk of a version for M2M universe. Given the wider variety of use cases for IoT, this latest eSIM specification is now more broadly IoT oriented, considering criteria such as size, memory and power consumption. In short, it has been extended to facilitate the deployment of eSIMs in large-scale IoT applications and offer the ability to control them remotely.

According to consultancy Analysys Mason, “GSMA’s new eSIM specification for IoT enhances the previous version to drive significant change in the IoT value chain”. The consultancy’s prediction is that it will take some time for the new specification to be adopted.

Analysys Mason reports that the original GSMA specification for M2M deployments had input from a number of groups, including SIM and chipset vendors, mobile network service operators (MNOs) and, in particular, automotive parts manufacturers. It was natural, then, that the specification had a greater focus on this segment, which did not need to pay much attention to low-power devices. To some extent, it also catered to MNOs by including features that were not present in the eSiM specification for the consumer market.

The new SGP.32 v1.0 specification brings advances in two main points, according to the consultancy:

  • Profile exchange process: Profile provisioning is no longer managed by the MNO but by the SIM provider or the device manufacturer.
  • Compatibility with NB-IoT/LTE-M applications: Previously relied on SMS protocols to facilitate the process of exchanging profiles, but NB-IoT is not SMS-compliant. There were also issues with using eSIM with LPWA devices, as provisioning profiles could deplete the battery life of IoT devices. The new specification can do profile provisioning without SMS and more generally meet low-power consumption requests of NB-IoT/LTE-M devices.

With the voice, the father of the specification

In an interview with the IoT for All website, Kigen’s Saïd Gharout, leader of the GSMA working group defining the SGP.32 specification for IoT eSIM, the Internet of Things world is moving towards the cloud and hyper-connected data, and it is important to simplify remote provisioning for various IoT use cases. So for those looking to create GSMA standards compliant components or deployments, the SGP.32 specification explains how to do it.

The new specification brings two main documents and test and compliance documents to ensure that solutions are interoperable. It is also recommended to refer to the consumer market specifications SGP.21 v2.4 and SGP.22 v2.5 that establish requirements, architecture, and description of eSIMs.

IoT connections using eSIM technology will reach a volume of 195 million by 2026, up from just 22 million in 2023, a growth of 780% over the next three years globally. And driving the growing adoption of eSIM in this period will be the “eIM” or eSIM IoT Manager segment, according to a study by Juniper Research.

According to this report, current eSIM provisioning solutions impede the growth of eSIMs in the IoT market by limiting the number of devices that can be provisioned and managed through a single interface. On the other hand, eIM solutions will reduce the cost of deployments by allowing multiple connections to be deployed simultaneously. This will make the value proposition of eSIM use cases requiring mass deployments much more interesting from a financial and operational point of view.

The potential behind eIM is huge, given that only 2% of all eSIMs in use will be attributed to the IoT sector by 2023, according to the study. With increased adoption of eIM tools, the growth of eSIM connections for IoT over the next three years will surpass that of the consumer sector which includes smartphones. By 2026, 6% of eSIMs will be attributable to the IoT sector globally speaking.

The report identified two main sectors that will benefit from eIM: logistics and oil and gas extraction. By 2026, these two markets are expected to account for 75% of eSIMs in use globally, due to the use of mass deployment processes and reliance on LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) networks.