12th September 2017 | Jon-Paul Clarke, Business Development Director
The changing world of connected ‘things’
For many years the ‘Connected Thing’ – whether industrial, commercial or consumer has had the connection (typically a mobile or ‘cellular connection with SIM card) added by the installer or by the end user themselves.
From the gate entry system, to the parking meter to the vending machine, they have all had the SIM connection added later – far away from the manufacturer of the to be ‘Connected Thing’.
Before the age of IoT, this had changed across many vertical markets – one example is automotive, and particularly vehicle tracking, where the tracking solution providers wrap up the tracking hardware, the mobile connection and the control platform into a monthly per asset charge.
Evolving beyond this into an OEM solution, the connected vehicle is now becoming the norm. From e-call to in-car entertainment to vehicle telemetry which predicts and advises of service requirements, this early adopting vertical is changing the way connectivity is acquired. Manufacturers or ‘OEMs’ are now adding connectivity at point of manufacture, rather than down the value chain.
However in-built connectivity at scale can prove an issue.
It’s a reality that no single Mobile Network Operator (MNO) holds all the global network relationships and associated favourable commercials. Regional alliances have formed, so when manufacturing and shipping global product – global manufacturers have ended up having to strike deals with several different cellular networks This duplicates costs and takes up critical time. To ensure connection happens wherever their product arrives at its final destination also proves challenging. Manufacturers hate complexity and if adding five SIMs to 10 line items – the resulting 50 part codes (SKU’s) make processing and distribution much harder. The cost of the wrong SIM being added to a connected thing that ends up in the wrong country can be costly – resulting in bill shock – only being notified up to 30 days after the event. Plus connected things can and do move regions – especially over an average seven year life span – and many up to 10 years or more. When you don’t know the region the second hand asset will be in, again the airtime costs can be vast as will the cost of an engineer to swap it out if required.
Cellular networks aren’t static – masts are added or removed, new structures affect signal, and multiple other factors can influence the connectivity of a stationary SIM-based asset. So a good connection from a fixed site can become a poor connection over time – even though the asset didn’t move. Getting the right coverage for the location is paramount and can be ever changing – not to mention the need for maximum signal strength to get the best data speeds. This also creates a demand for multiple network relationships that on first glance might not be apparent. All this goes to prove that, to date, one SIM doesn’t fit all.
Commercial contracts and tariffs change. But once you’ve rolled out your big deployment of 10k+ connected products using a network or multi-network connection from a single provider, it’s unlikely that SIM swaps further down the line are ever practical or commercially viable. Avoiding engineer site visits is a must for any IoT solution at scale as a £100+ callout for 25% of your deployed estate can amount to £250,000. The connectivity provider is unlikely to budge too far on its commercials or resolve ‘out of region issues’. The manufacturer is typically locked with the original SIM and Mobile Network, with little hope of reviewing the contract as market conditions change.
Changing the connected landscape
How about a SIM that can, in essence, change its colours (network) at point of delivery… and then you decide to change it again at a future point in time?
Introducing e-SIMs/eUICC/Multi-IMSI connectivity. This changing landscape is known by several names due to evolving technologies although the overall picture is one of tackling the same issues. These are technologies that separate network allocation from SIM and add on a range of value-added layers to make the connection more influenced and controlled by the owner – giving you more control of your connectivity.
The SIM need not even be a traditional plastic SIM – it could be a dedicated chip – or even space in the device’s memory. Software-based SIMs are almost here.
On the face of it, having the capability to have a connection that isn’t immediately linked to a single network provider seems relatively basic. However, only this year has it been sanctioned by the GSMA for business M2M/IoT and just a year ago for consumer-based M2M/IoT. For the latter, technology can now be seen in the Samsung smart watch. But in the world of connected thing manufacturing it’s a game changer.
10 line items with one SIM stay as 10 line items. Coverage issues can be resolved remotely by changing the available network list (and underlying operator) for the connection, and out of region assets can be resolved in an automated way. The item destined for France that appears in Brazil can have its network updated – not to mention avoiding network lock-in.
It’s in this space that Wireless Logic are being recognised as one of the first specialist IoT platform providers to market, investing heavily in building our own cellular network core which enables users the ability to change IMSI or profile on remote assets when initially activated and during the lifespan of the connected thing. Quite appropriately, we call this the Intelligent Network and are already working with a range of OEMs to simplify and enable the opportunity for a greater number of connected products ‘out of the box’. And beyond the ability to change profiles, Intelligent connectivity will provide invaluable data to give manufacturers more insight into the behaviours and habits of their customers, and adapt their offerings accordingly throughout the product’s life.
Once upon-a-time batteries weren’t included in gifts, and that often-ruined Christmas… We now take it for granted that they typically are. We will now see products arrive connected and ready to use ‘out of the box’. No more visits to the mobile store as products will be enabled to communicate and activated directly by the user. We are looking forward to changing users’ experiences and delivering more to manufacturers, wherever they are based across the world.