iSIM, a new ally for IoT projects

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On the Internet of Things, downsizing can offer significant advantages, and the advent of integrated SIM (iSIM) technology advances this further, also helping to improve performance and even simplify supply chains.

The embedded SIM (iSIM) can be considered an evolution of the eSIM (Embedded Subscriber Identity Module), which had already helped to reduce dimensions, enabling the design of more compact and energy-efficient hardware, and also reducing concerns about theft. Based on the GSMA’s ieUICC specification, it aims to increase the existing alternatives for mobile chips.

Both eSIM and iSIM are technologies for authenticating users and devices on mobile networks. From a design perspective, eSIM is soldered directly into the circuitry, while iSIM is integrated into the device’s SOC, saving even more space and also consuming less power. It also enables higher levels of miniaturization by dispensing with SIM card slots and eSIM sockets, which can pave the way for other applications, for example in the field of robotics and medicine or that use sensors in long-distance, low-power networks such as NB-IoT.

Another advantage of iSIM is in the deployment phase, as it allows the operator configurations of networks and subscribers to be done remotely (over-the-air – OTA), just like its brother eSIM. This gives IoT projects the flexibility to change operators when necessary.

Industry observers agree that the market is hot. According to Counterpoint Research, the number of eSIM and iSIM compatible devices shipped is expected to reach over 6 billion by 2025.

Among the more than 14 billion eSIM devices sold between 2021 and 2030, iSIM is the fastest growing, becoming the preferred choice by 2030 across all mobile-connected device categories, according to Counterpoint’s latest eSIM Devices Market Outlook report. After 2027, the iSIM standard is expected to take over as the dominant SIM format, with shipments of compatible devices reaching 7 billion units between 2021 and 2030.

Report Counterpoint - internet reproduction
Source: Counterpoint

Earlier this year, Vodafone, Qualcomm Technologies and Thales demonstrated a functional iSIM-enabled smartphone. According to the companies, a milestone that paves the way for commercialization of the technology in a range of new devices.

smartphone iSIM - Qualcomm
Source: Qualcomm

Benefits of the iSIM for IoT

The integrated SIM (iSIM) was developed by Arm on top of the eSIM specification, thinking to eliminate the restriction of traditional SIM cards which, despite offering a robust, reliable and highly tested mechanism for secure identity of phones and other connected cellular devices, cannot have the ownership changed after being deployed, requiring access through physical routes to change the mobile network operator (MNO) responsible for connection services. Thinking about IoT projects that would use large volumes of connected devices or sensors, making physical changes to the SIM would not be feasible at all.

By eliminating the need for a physical SIM or eSIM, iSIM technology addresses several important challenges for IoT innovators, especially in terms of miniaturization. iSIMs make it possible to completely eliminate SIM card slots and eSIM sockets that currently take up a large portion of circuit board space in small devices. This also has the benefit of removing manufacturing steps in production and reducing device power requirements.

Security has not been forgotten. An independent structure makes iSIM technology secure by design, ensuring a unique identity that is less susceptible to tampering – everything (a microcontroller, a cell modem and a SIM identity) on a single chip.

Sectors where every fraction of a millimetre matters – such as wearables, e-textiles and smart trackers – are key early markets for iSIM technology. 

But what more can this next-generation technology do for IoT innovation?

  • Open potential new markets: iSIM reduces power requirements and removes the footprint for SIMs, opening possibilities for new markets beyond small consumer goods and battery-powered devices that cannot always be connected to the power grid. Industries like smart utilities, smart drones and smart meters could take advantage of iSIM technology simply based on its power consumption.

  • Streamline the device and component manufacturing processes. iSIMs remove a step from the manufacturing process and parts to source, helping IoT innovators to accelerate their solutions to market. This has huge impact when it comes to large-scale manufacturing under the supply chain issue we have seen today. In vehicle manufacturing, for example, manufacturers must often wait until every part is available to operate an assembly line. iSIMs remove parts to wait for in the process, helping manufacturers to keep lines in operation with less risk for downtime.

  • Disrupt the value chain. iSIMs can require a different sourcing process than traditional SIMs and eSIMs because there is no option to switch connectivity providers by physically replacing a SIM card or an eSIM chip. Because the iSIM is integrated in the connectivity module, manufacturers, and product designers need to identify connectivity providers who can offer a smart initial bootstrap profile for iSIMs early in the process. Although this may sound like an additional burden, finding the right connectivity partner is a necessary step that saves time and money in deployment.

According to Counterpoint’s study, the first group of iSIM applications for IoT is expected to be presented by leading IoT chipset and module players, such as Quectel, Telit, Sequans and Sony Semi (Altair), in partnership with eSIM enablement players. Other companies interested in boosting the segment are Qualcomm, Thales, IDEMIA, Truphone, Redtea Mobile, Apple, Samsung, and Nokia.

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