By Kenta Yasukawa, CTO and co-founder of Soracom.
Bigger isn’t always better. In IoT, reduced size can offer significant advantages, and the advent of integrated SIM (iSIM) technology is poised to offer a major advancement.
Embedded SIMs (eSIMs) represent a step forward from card-type SIMs, and allow for the design and manufacture of smaller devices and more capable IoT devices. iSIMs advance the state of the art even further, helping to minimize form factors, enhance performance, and even streamline supply chains. Industry watchers agree the market is hot; according to Counterpoint Research, the number of eSIM and iSIM-capable devices shipped is expected to reach more than 6 billion by 2025.
In traditional cellular applications, a physical hardware communications module lets devices establish a network connection, with a SIM card or eSIM present for identifying and authenticating subscribers. iSIM technology combines these functions into a single, purpose-built system-on-a-chip (SoC) within the communications module, giving it a “zero footprint.” Regardless of whether it is a card or embedded, a SIM is a tiny computer chip that requires power to work. Because an iSIM-enabled device does not need an external chip to supply power to, the iSIM can also reduce power consumption for small-footprint devices.
By eliminating the need for a physical SIM or eSIM, iSIM technology addresses multiple key challenges for IoT innovators, especially in terms of miniaturization. iSIMs make it possible to eliminate entirely the SIM card slots and eSIM sockets that currently take up a large portion of the circuit board footprint in small devices. This also has the benefit of removing manufacturing steps in production and reducing device power requirements.
Industries where every fraction of a millimeter matters – such as wearables, e-textiles and smart trackers – are prime early markets for iSIM technology. But what else 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.
These opportunities underline the importance of considering iSIM technology and a connectivity provider at the same time. For example, IoT innovators using iSIM may require connectivity capabilities that deliver full functionality, including unique key information, secure loading of the carrier profile information onto the module, connection to the cellular network, secure bootstrapping capabilities out of the box, and connection to a provider’s advanced platform services. Getting this established at the front of the process means faster time to market.
Democratization of the IoT is moving quickly. As new technologies such as iSIMs pass through the proof-of-concept stage and into production, new partnerships will emerge that make it easier than ever for IoT innovators to not only imagine but enable the next generation of IoT.
Author Bio: Kenta Yasukawa is CTO and co-founder of Soracom, where he has led deployment of the industry’s most advanced cloud-native telecom platform, designed specifically for the needs of connected devices. Before co-founding Soracom, Kenta served as a solutions architect with AWS and conducted research for connected homes and cars at Ericsson Research in Tokyo and Stockholm. Kenta holds a Ph.D. in engineering from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, with additional studies in computer science at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.