26 January 2024
Reading Time: 5 mins
26 January 2024
Reading Time: 5 mins
Remote SIM Provisioning (RSP) in IoT is the process of remotely managing SIM profiles compatible with eUICC-capable SIMs. This includes secure storage, installation, switching, and deactivation of SIM profiles over-the-air (OTA).
In most situations a physical update on the IoT device, such as a SIM swap, is undesirable or impossible. By using remote SIM provisioning, an IoT device could change to a different operator for optimized connectivity or even move from one region to another, and instead of roaming on another operator network, could switch profile to a local provider.
Use cases for Internet of Things (IoT) applications are countless and varied. Vehicle asset tracking and fleet management are the obvious ones that come to mind, but applications for locating and monitoring other types of assets, including shipping containers, livestock, machinery, and equipment are growing fast on their own potential.
Reliable cellular connectivity is the key to unlocking this potential however, and this creates a challenge in the provisioning and management of network profiles when the IoT device could be a utility meter deep underground, a shipping container moving internationally, or attached to the ear of ranging cattle.
Although this challenge was partially solved by the development of the eSIM, which removed operator lock-in and the need for an interchangeable hardware SIM to be inserted into the device, it wasn’t until the emergence of Remote SIM Provisioning (RSP) that businesses could realize total control over their IoT estate.
Before the development of RSP, the only ways to change the network operator profile associated with a SIM was by having physical access to the device and swapping the hardware SIM. This is not particularly useful in the case of IoT deployments, which could see tens or hundreds of thousands of connected devices in unreachable locations, or require a considerable degree of forward planning.
To overcome this problem, many providers started offering multi-IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) SIMs, to switch to an alternative pre-loaded SIM profile. But with no defined specification governed by a global standard or certification system for multi-IMSI, you may not get the same functionality and connectivity service if you change SIM providers.
The GSMA released its first attempt at a global specification for eSIM, including capabilities for RSP OTA, in 2016 with SGP.01/02, which specifically addressed the requirements for machine-to-machine (M2M) devices.
The standard was updated in 2020 with SGP.21/22, which addressed the same capabilities for consumer devices.
While both standards require eUICC SIMs to store and manage multiple network profiles, the key difference between M2M/IoT and consumer specifications is that the consumer standard assumes a human operator who can pull a profile update to their device, while the M2M standard for remote SIM provisioning works on the basis of pushing an update to a device, and assumes that a human operator does not have access.
The GSMA most recently updated the component of the standard dealing with remote SIM provisioning, with SGP.31/32 in mid-2023.
This update is designed to address shortcomings in the M2M standard for RSP, which effectively locked out all but the largest and most well resourced players, because significant engineering work and interoperability testing was required to make the SIM provisioning process function.
Prior to SGP.31/32, RSP updates were carried out over SMS and had to be completed in one session. For many IoT devices this was untenable due to a lack of support for SMS, and low power devices spending lots of time asleep creating challenges supporting the long sessions necessary.
The updated SGP.31/32 standard removes the requirement for complex integrations and addresses the needs of constrained devices, removing the reliance on SMS and introducing provisions for a backend server known as an eSIM IoT Manager or eIM, to act as a proxy for managing eSIM deployments centrally and pushing profiles to individual or multiple devices.
The caveat is that the first GSMA-certified solutions, incorporating next-generation RSP, will not likely be available until 2025 earliest. These solutions will also not be backwards compatible with pre-existing SIM provisioning solutions.
Not to worry though, existing solutions such as the Infinity IoT Connectivity Management Platform from Eseye deliver intelligent, global IoT connectivity directly into devices today and provide a future-proof migration path to SGP.31/32.
In the absence of a human operator, M2M deals with IoT sensors, meters, trackers, and other devices that work autonomously. The recently released GSMA standard SGP.31/32 is commonly referred to as RSP IoT and is intended to overcome the challenges the previous M2M and consumer specifications bring to scalable IoT.
The RSP component is a specification realized by GSMA, originally as a small but important part of the Association’s work on eSIM.
RSP relies on the eUICC standard, in which eUICC SIMs are used like standard (non-eUICC) card-based SIMs. They can be soldered inside a device (MFF2) or inserted into the SIM slot in removable form factors (2FF, 3FF, 4FF).
On a software level, the eUICC secure element can load multiple IMSI profiles that are either pre-installed or can be downloaded OTA.
Each profile consists of operator data that is related to subscription as well as the operator’s credentials and further 3rd party SIM-based applications.
Technically advanced eSIM connectivity solutions, such as Eseye’s Infinity advanced IoT Connectivity Management Platform (CMP), combine a self-owned SM-SR (Subscription Manager Secure Routing) system that securely delivers encrypted operator credentials to the SIM and remotely manages the SIM thereafter, with SM-DP (Subscription Manager Data Preparation) that identifies the remote server used to manage eSIMs, a cloud abstraction layer and combined multi-IMSI and eUICC SIM technology.
IoT devices can localize connections to different network operators by using a solution called eSIM localization.
In the case of the Eseye AnyNet+ eSIM, every eSIM comes with two profiles: a bootstrap profile that’s administered on manufacture and an operational localization profile which allows new profiles to be delivered over-the-air.
The eSIM oprational profile can be triggered to collect or deliver a new profile from the SM-SR and SM-DP, which contain the different profiles that can be used.
Once a change is made, the modem will recognize the SIM has updated and will reload the profiles and reconnect to the network using those new parameters.
In this sense, RSP offers a secure, robust and highly scalable solution for addressing the challenges of traditional SIMs, by enabling IoT device owners to remotely and securely switch profiles over-the-air.
As eUICC and eSIM achieve widespread adoption, RSP will become the mainstream for all consumer smartphones and IoT devices.
All the terminology can get a bit confusing, but to keep it simple an eSIM refers to the hardware component. Both IMSI and UICC are software components of the SIM that refer to specific identities.
Multi-IMSI technology allows pre-loaded profiles of multiple MNOs (mobile network operators) to be stored on a single SIM. Typically, with multi-IMSI, you have a single primary (bootstrap) MNO, and while all profiles are always active, the SIM can be programmed to choose one profile over another. For example, if the device moves to another country, it can be programmed to switch to a more regionally optimized profile automatically.
On the other hand, eUICC, which has become synonymous with the term eSIM, offers more control over connectivity and unlimited options in-the-field, by deploying with a single profile, but offering the option to add (and remove) unlimited other profiles OTA.
At present, while eUICC holds great promise, it is less widely adopted. Currently, multi-IMSI can be implemented in weeks at a lower cost, while eUICC implementations can take several months and require more up-front investment.
Where eSIMs are available in any form factor and provide the same functionality as conventional SIMs, with enhancements around security, RSP, and multiple network profiles, iSIM, or Integrated SIM, takes the concept a step further by embedding SIM functionality directly into the modem chipset.
This integration brings greater control and flexibility to device manufacturers in terms of form factor, while maintaining the benefits of the eSIM technology.
As a result, iSIM benefits from the same remote SIM provisioning platform and eUICC technology to update network profiles over-the-air (OTA).
SM-DP (Subscription Manager Data Preparation) is a unique code that identifies a remote server used to activate and manage eSIMs and is a vital part of the security of the eSIM system.
SM-SR (Subscription Manager Secure Routing) is the system that securely delivers encrypted operator credentials to the SIM and remotely manages the SIM thereafter.
Access to SM-SR is critical to enable network switching. Without it, OTA updates can be problematic.
All eSIMs use eUICC software to enable remote provisioning and management of network profiles.
Developed by GSMA, the eUICC standard empowers IoT device owners and operators to update connectivity profiles to achieve the highest levels of service and availability, and the best rates for data.
They also enable IoT businesses to solve roaming problems in countries like Brazil or India, where permanent roaming is forbidden, by enabling devices to use a local carrier quickly and easily.
Ultimately, RSP and eSIM technologies are huge breakthroughs, going some way to enabling at-scale device deployment for IoT.
At Eseye, we believe eSIM is the standardization opportunity that will overcome fundamental problems inhibiting regional interoperability and enable mass market IoT to become viable. On top of this, the growing ecosystem is discovering the benefits of RSP with more use cases and plenty of innovation opportunities exist to build on the proven value of RSP solutions.
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