SIM cards on the way out in cellular IoT

More than half of M2M connections will use non-SIM card provisioning by 2020, Juniper Research study finds

SIM cards on the way out in cellular IoT
Credit: iStockphoto

The miniscule slivers of plastic known as the SIM card are on their way out, at least in the machine-to-machine (M2M) space. 

The adoption of an embedded specification by the wireless industry is behind the change, explains Juniper Research in a press release about its recent report (subscription) on M2M for the Mobile Network Operator (MNO) vertical.

Juniper says the new system of provisioning without cards, introduced by the GSMA, will let MNOs offer more complex, changing subscriptions.

Over half of M2M devices will gain the non-physical card provisioning by 2020, the research group says.

Theoretically, the change means users will also be able to switch providers over the air (OTA) without physically changing out the cards. That has not been as easy to offer as it sounds, primarily due to security—both the network’s access limitation requirement and customer’s identity protection come into play.

The need for non-SIM card provisioning

The need for non-SIM card provisioning, at least in business data environments, is becoming increasingly important. The main reason is an often lack of physical access to the device.

“Hardware is not easily accessible or removable from the machine-to-machine device,” the GSMA said in a 2013 document (PDF) discussing the upcoming provisioning architecture.

MNOs and network managers need to be able to change subscriptions and features, but often they can’t physically or economically get to the devices—they can be atop a mast or at the end of a distant pipeline, for example. Add to that the increase in numbers of M2M and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and it’s become a headache.

Interestingly, the problem has gotten, and will continue to get, worse. As microprocessors become more power-thrifty and batteries’ stamina advances, the need to go to the device location becomes less important.

Conceivably then, if a data device can function for 10 years, say, without attendant maintenance, there’s no impetus for anyone to go out there at all—let alone change out the SIM card just to get a new subscription deal from an MNO.

“Migration to OTA provisioning would facilitate a range of new business models, potentially increasing the lifetime value of M2M subscription while also reducing costs,” Juniper says in its press release.

Lower costs

Reducing costs is key. For MNOs to grow their businesses as the consumer telco markets start to wane in smartphone-saturated developed countries now, and in the future, in developing countries like those in Africa, they have to sell more data subscriptions and get more industries to adopt cellular IoT and M2M.

Agriculture is one business they are particularly keen on grabbing because its remote and longish-distance radio communication routes are more suitable for cellular, LTE and so on than Wi-Fi or industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands, it argues.

The MNOs need growth of any kind. Juniper says the SIM card disbandment changes are good for customers, too, because operators will be forced to compete on pricing as it becomes easier to change MNOs.

“Remote provisioning would oblige operators to compete on pricing, functionality and customization capabilities,” Juniper says in its release.

Are consumer SIM cards on the way out? Not likely—for now. There's no need to change mainly because there aren’t access problems. Why make it easier, in that case, to switch?

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