Most outdoor sensors for utilities and city services are using M2M (machine to machine) solutions based on cellular networks. That poses a challenge to developers because they need to negotiate agreements with several cellular carriers in each market. Also the size of the SIM (subscriber identification module) cards limits the possibility of making smaller sensors and other connected devices.
When Amazon introduced the Kindle 2 international version in 2009, it was shipped worldwide with an AT&T international SIM, allowing users to shop the Amazon store and download titles almost anywhere in the world. That made sense to Amazon because people don't use the Kindle to browse the web, and they could offset the cost of the data charges with the book prices.
But millions of sensors sending continuous data to servers are another issue. It is not economical to fit everyone of those with an international SIM, or even a local one. Many other solutions are now being tested, including the upcoming 700 MHz 802.11ah standard. But, as of today, cellular data is the only solution already deployed and ready to use.
The GSMA -- the European mobile operators' organization that puts on Mobile World Congress and whose members includes most of the world’s cellular operators -- has created the Embedded SIM working group, which already includes cellular carriers and system developers. At this moment AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Gemalto, Giesecke & Devrient, Morpho, NTT DOCOMO, Oberthur, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor and Vodafone participate in the project.
Basically, the operators are proposing a specific nonremovable SIM that is embedded into the IoT sensors during manufacturing. The SIM can later be provisioned over the air with the subscription profile of the operator providing the network. The device could be later reprovisioned if the unit is moved to another location or the customer decides to use another provider.
“The number of mobile connected devices is expected to reach 11 billion by 2020, growth that will be led predominantly by advances in the M2M market,” said Alex Sinclair, chief technology officer, GSMA, in a press statement. “This level of growth will be heavily dependent on the adoption of a common, global and interoperable SIM provisioning and management architecture that enables the M2M market to flourish. The specification released today will have a significant impact on the M2M marketplace, as it will help provide lower operational costs and drive economies of scale.”
An additional benefit of embedded SIMs is durability. Standard SIM cards for mobile phones are designed to withstand certain conditions. Giesecke & Devrient is already providing Verizon Wireless with ruggedized M2M embedded SIMs to withstand more harsh environments, including extreme temperature fluctuations, vibration or high humidity, like those found in outdoor meters, automobiles, external security cameras and buoys.
Car manufacturers are also excited about the possibility. High end makers such as Audi and Mercedes Benz are already including global SIMs in some models, but the embedded SIMs can be the economic solution for their deployment in every vehicle.
“Without a globally recognized, standardized and harmonized connectivity solution the automotive industry will become unnecessarily complex and fragmented. As a car manufacturer an Embedded SIM that can be remotely provisioned is absolutely key for us in driving efficiency and simplicity and is to be welcomed. We thank the GSMA and partners for agreeing this specification,” commented Marcus Keith, project management Audi connect, in a press statement.
IoT and M2M systems are being reshaped now to accommodate the billions of devices connected. Since there is no way a standard will be set for their connectivity, every industry will need to make it as easy and cost effective as possible for developers, government agencies and users to connect the devices. Embedded SIMs, low-power WiFi, ZigBee, and other approaches will have to coexist in a crowded market. Which technology will be most used? Probably the most cost-effective and easier to implement.