Thursday 1st October 2020

Looking for some eSIM progress? Maybe it’s coming

Published on March 30th, 2020

The fleet transport and logistics industries have long been a target for electronic Subscriber Identity Module (eSIM) providers, says freelance technology writer, Antony Savvas. Here he looks at how obstacles to take-up are potentially being mitigated.

An eSIM can offer consumers and enterprise customers the freedom and flexibility to roam through different territories using the same SIM credentials, without having to use a changeable physical SIM card. A prime advantage is that the eSIM can connect to the best performing network at the best price.

Not surprisingly, when the technology first appeared a few years ago, some industry watchers believed that take-up would be stalled as mobile operators would do their best to keep their customers to themselves, instead of sharing them through eSIMs.

The market

Whether that was the case is a matter of opinion, although market figures from analysts should be considered. MarketsandMarkets projects the global eSIM market will reach almost US$1 billion (€0.9 billion) in revenues by 2023.

The overall market – including consumer devices – it says, was valued at $180 million (€163 million) in 2017, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 31% between 2018 and 2023 taking it to $978 million(€884 million).

Gerhard Loots

A more recent report from ResearchAndMarkets though, says the global eSIM market will grow at a staggering CAGR of over 90% between 2019 and 2025. It says the market crossed the $700 million (€632 million) mark last year, with demand increasing in areas including connected cars, consumer electronics and IoT devices.

But it points out that few of the major technology companies, including Apple, Google, Samsung and Huawei, have released devices that have any eSIM capability. Although Google’s Android framework has started providing standard application program interfaces (APIs) for accessing eSIMs and managing subscription profiles since the Android 9 operating system.

Tony Shakib

The analyst also points out that several operators have already got behind eSIMs despite the threat of churn, because of advantages to them – including reduced cost, the opportunity to actually increase subscribers through new services and improved security solutions. NTT Docomo, AT&T, Etisalat, Vodafone and Telefonica are among those to climb aboard.

“Increasing R&D on connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles will fuel the demand for eSIM during the forecast period,” says ResearchAndMarkets.

The ecosystem

If network operators can benefit through retaining potentially lucrative customers, more operators will potentially embrace eSIMs, particularly if the telecoms industry can embed itself into a decent ecosystem to support services.

But for some, the operators still have to get their billing systems in order to enjoy mass take-up in the transport industry. Neil Hamilton, chief business development officer at IoT connectivity-as-a-service firm, says: “eSIMs are a great concept for users of data services given they in theory can be steered onto the optimum network in any country, thus reducing data costs. “However, these data costs still remain unpredictable and can result in enterprise bill shock.”

Yuval Mayron

And, he adds: “While eSIMs enable some flexibility, it is ultimately controlled by a remote provisioning service, of which there are many and these are not standardised.”

That said, security services firm Thales, Australian telco Telstra, open source hardware and software company Arduino, and a small company called Microsoft are doing their bit to build the aforementioned ecosystem, to help iron out security issues and other headaches when it comes to eSIMs.

Within the Interne tof Things (IoT) ecosystem, billions of devices collect, process and send data to the cloud, where a range of different IoT services are executed. To enable security, the IoT cloud service must have absolute trust in data received from connected devices. Equally, devices need to trust the cloud.

This is only possible if the device and server are mutually authenticated. However, the new partners said that the IoT devices market is so fragmented – with a patchwork of different operating systems and chips being utilised – that security services scalability and duplication are “very limited”.

Some trust

They have developed a system that enables trusted and secure end-to-end communications between devices and the cloud. The technology enables instant and standardised mutual authentication between a device and a cloud platform via cellular networks, while fully-complying with GSMA IoT SAFE security specifications.

Microsoft has integrated the IoT SAFE solution within its Azure IoT Hub and has also provided Azure Stream Analytics and its Cosmos DB and Power BI services to quickly enable the development of safe end-to-end IoT applications.

The level of trust enabled by the new solution is reached by a “security-by-design” approach for any IoT devices based on eSIM technology.

As soon as an IoT device is switched on, any eSIM featuring Thales’s IoT SAFE application is automatically and securely provisioned. Once the IoT device gets a proper digital certificate created and stored in the eSIM, then a trusted communication between the device and the server is permitted.

Tony Shakib, general manager for Azure IoT business acceleration at Microsoft, said: “By bringing together each IoT technology layer – device, software, network and cloud – we can deliver a more streamlined approach to IoT security. This allows customers and partners to focus on creating business value from their solutions while ensuring their IoT deployments remain secure.”

Gerhard Loots, global IoT solutions executive at Telstra, said: “The key role of GSMA IoT SAFE specifications is to deliver scalable and future-proof IoT security for cellular networks. Being able to offer standardised easy-to-implement IoT security to our customers is a huge leap forward for all use cases.”

The opportunity

Yuval Mayron, general manager for Internet of Things at communications software and services provider Amdocs, confirms that such ecosystems are the way forward. He says: “There is a need to manage many channels and stakeholders across the eSIM market. In all of these segments, communication service providers (CSPs) need to be able to connect the entire ecosystem and orchestrate all the processes, while providing excellent customer service and support.

“This is the challenge when we look at eSIMs and it is a big challenge for CSPs to address, however the rewards for doing so will also be great.”

The author is Tony Savvas, freelance technology writer.

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