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The truth about eUICC: what it really brings to the IoT industry

As we explained already in our glossary, eUICC is often referred to as eSIM. This mistake comes from the consumer world, where the concept of eSIM is used to describe a technology enabling remote SIM provisioning. Here is an example on Apple's website. However, eUICC brings not only the possibility to remotely bring a new carrier profile on a SIM but also to let a SIM directly host multiple profiles. Even though the technologies are very similar in the consumer and IoT world, it's not the same.

On one hand, the technology for consumers has been thought for devices used by people who can have a direct impact on them. On the other hand, IoT technology has been thought for remote devices to which access is complicated.

Even though the technology is different, IoT connectivity providers offering eUICC SIMs often suggest they can perform the same as consumer eSIM i.e. offering an exit route and quickly changing providers on deployed devices. If you don't want to read the full article, you can stop here and take my word for it: it is not true.

Let's take a closer look at the technology and how it works.

Main eUICC misconceptions coming from consumer eSIMs

The size (of the SIM) does not matter

As explained on the Apple support page, "An eSIM is an industry-standard digital SIM that allows you to activate a cellular plan from your carrier without having to use a physical SIM". That is the first main misconception. The eUICC technology is independent of the form factor. The same technology can be hosted on traditional triple/dual-cut, MFF2 SIMs (or embedded SIMs), as well as on iSIMs or Smartphone eSIMs.

Push vs Pull

It is important to understand the difference in dynamics of how the profile is changed in a cellphone vs in an IoT device. On an eSIM-compatible smartphone, it is very easy to download the SIM profile of the provider I want. I can download the profile using a QR code or a specific application (like Airalo). Internet is required to download the profile, so I can connect my phone to Wi-Fi, or use my existing SIM card to download the new profile, store it in the same device as the old one, and then switch from one to another when required. In this case, the new profile is pulled from the provider to the device, and a new profile is stored which doesn't override the old one.

In the IoT world, devices (GPS trackers, charging stations, alarm systems, etc.) are deployed somewhere in the world and not easily accessible at once. Going where the device is and downloading a new SIM profile is not an option. Even if the SIM card can store multiple profiles (which usually they cannot), you rarely have a screen or a way to switch from one to the other. If you try to replace the existing profile with a new one, you might lose connectivity and have to go to the device to perform any action physically; which defeats the whole purpose. As we'll understand below, in the IoT world, a new profile needs to be pushed to the device.

I can choose the provider I want

If you buy SIM cards from whichever provider you decide for your IoT device, the SIM card was manufactured by them, according to their specifications, and they have many security features to avoid attacks or third-party messing with the SIM configuration. If a new profile from a new provider is to be installed in the new SIM, this is only possible if the new provider has agreed with the existing one or if both profiles come from the same provider. In the first case, this is highly unlikely since providers generally don't want to make significant extra work, just so that their customers can leave them more easily (apart from a bunch of technical complications that we won't get into), and in the second case, you would be changing profiles from the same operator; but you are still dependent on the same company.

I can swap providers easily and for free

Downloading a new eSIM on my smartphone does not cost me anything since I am using Wi-Fi (or 4G from another contract). Pushing new profiles to thousands of IoT devices can cost a lot. The integration between the old and new provider has a cost and profile updates too. The campaign to switch profiles would typically have a configuration cost as well. In addition to this, if you go ahead with the campaign, you always have the risk of having a percentage of the SIMs not receive the necessary changes, not taking the new configuration correctly (with a manual reset required), or simply not knowing which SIMs have successfully switched profiles and which haven't.

If my provider does not work well, I can swap

This is one of those things that technically, yes? But in practice, I have never seen or even heard of a successful case in which this was done in my 7 years of working in IoT connectivity. As explained above, the difference between pushing and pulling a profile is very different, with the pushing of the profile being significantly more complicated, and costly, and requires the full cooperation (and significant cost and work) of the provider you are leaving! When being offered by any provider the marvels of eSIMs and how you are not tied up to them, you can leave whenever you want; simply ask them how many times has this happened (with examples) and how much did it cost. Most providers that offer eSIM allow for them to switch between existing profiles they own, but not so much for you to switch their profiles from a competitor.

In conclusion

We believe eUICC technology for IoT will revolutionize the industry and bring significant power to the consumer. Unfortunately, we are still far away from that, with a technology that promises a lot but is still in its infancy. Many structural changes need to be made in the technology, regulations, commercials, and industry in general for the promises of IoT eUICC to materialize. Every company that has deployed IoT devices and has then changed connectivity providers knows the absolute nightmare that entails changing SIMs in deployed devices. We all want to believe that as technology improves, we will be able to simply avoid this issue by pressing a button. And even though this might (hopefully) be the case in the future, it is not a reality today.


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