A newer form of SIM card that is changing cellular networking is the eSIM card, and one of their core attributes that makes them successful is the eUICC, or embedded UICC. As the economic use of IoT increases, so does the demand for faster and more versatile network connectivity. That’s where eUICC and eSIM cards come in. This article will explain the eUICC versus eSIM cards and the impact both technologies have on IoT devices everywhere.
What is eUICC? — a simple definition
eUICC stands for Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC). An eUICC is the software component of an eSIM card that allows users to have multiple Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) or network profiles that can be provisioned over-the-air (OTA).
Some refer to the entire physical card or chip as the eUICC, but the eUICC is the software architecture that allows for profile provisioning. eUICC is becoming the new standard for SIM cards, specifically through the efforts of the Global Systems For Mobile Communications (GSMA) Association). Not only can they support multiple carriers, but it’s much easier to adjust profiles post-deployment.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM cards were introduced to cellular networking several years ago, though they’re growing in popularity for large-scale IoT deployment. The purpose of all Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards is to provide a specific identity for every device, link that device to a phone number and a subscribed network, and track data and usage of the device. There are traditional physical SIM cards that come in different sizes, such as standard, micro, and nano. Then, there are eSIMs and even more recently, iSIMs.
The main SIM card differences have to do with the form factor. A more traditional micro card or nanochip are plastic cards that are physically inserted into a device. These are harder to manage on a larger scale, so big IoT deployments can be challenging with this type of SIM form. On the other hand, eSIM cards are directly welded to the circuit board of a device, meaning you can’t simply remove them or switch eSIMs. However, there’s not a direct need to remove the SIM card with an eUICC specification, which is a standard element in eSIMs.
The difference between eSIM and eUICC
eUICC is often referred to as eSIMs, or sometimes both terms are used interchangeably. However, as mentioned, an eSIM is the hardware or form factor while eUICC is software that allows for remote SIM provisioning (RSP) of multiple MNOs. In fact, eUICC isn’t exclusive to eSIMs: some eUICC providers offer this tech for more traditional SIM cards, too.
However, eUICC is mostly associated with eSIMs, specifically because the benefit of eUICC is most useful in eSIM cards. If you can install a soldered chip into a device that doesn’t need to be removed to switch carriers, then physical SIM cards start losing some of their appeal, especially for M2M use cases.
Other eUICC Details & Definitions
MNOs and OTA programming
The most obvious purpose of eUICC is remote SIM provisioning, but how does that really work?
Mobile network operators (MNOs) are also known as carrier service providers, mobile phone operators, and mobile network carriers. As these names suggest, an MNO is all about mobile communication; a provider of telecommunications owns their own radio network license and controls access to that network license. Access to the license provides end-users with wireless voice and data communications and internet connectivity, among other things. Each MNO provider can come with its own devices and software, but most importantly, it’s responsible for controlling the network infrastructure that services its devices.
Switching between MNOs can be a long and tedious process since switching carriers usually requires changing devices, SIM cards, using different cards for different deployments, etc. However, eUICC specifically allows users to store and switch between multiple MNOs over-the-air. Over-the-air programming is a form of wireless transmission, and more specifically in this case, a software update or configuration for a hardware device.
This (and the minimum memory requirement of 512KB) is what essentially allows the eUICC architecture in an eSIM card to store multiple profiles and efficiently swap them without physically switching a SIM card. OTA network switching is especially important for roaming IoT devices that need to be able to move to local networks for ample coverage.
The eUICC SIM profile accounts for the operator subscription data such as authentication credentials as well as the SIM-based software. In the case of eSIMs, profiles basically act as different virtual SIMs, though only one profile can be “active” at a time.
There are two main types of profiles:
- Bootstrap profile. Also known as a provisioning profile, a bootstrap profile helps a device connect to a cellular network when it first starts up in order to access the RSP system. This is the most basic requirement of a bootstrap profile, though many providers also include access to the full operators network and other roaming agreements. Either way, the main objective is to get the device properly running and configured.
- Operational profile. Also known as a step 2 profile, the operational profile provides full access to the operator’s network. In other words, compared to the bootstrap, this is the more long-term SIM profile.
Benefits of eUICC SIM cards
Because one of the most common difficulties in mobile communications is switching network carriers once a device is deployed into the field, the GSMA created a global standard for machine-to-machine (M2M) eUICC specifications. Here are some of the benefits of this solution.
In terms of IoT, eSIMs that allow for remote SIM provisioning are an important part of consistent connectivity. eUICC is the key to ultimate flexibility when it comes to your cellular connections, especially as devices move from one location to another and deal with different permanent roaming restrictions. For carriers that don’t cover enough area for mobile devices, provisioning a new profile remotely or switching to an existing profile allows IoT devices everywhere to stay seamlessly connected.
Deployment & Manufacturing
The eUICC architecture allows you to change profiles after deployment, which means that manufacturing procedures are streamlined and reduce inventory and production costs. Instead of customizing different embedded devices that suit a specific location or network, the SIM profile can be adjusted post-production.
Instead of having to replace hoards of devices when connectivity technologies evolve, changeable SIM profiles offer security now and in the future. Whether there are bigger shifts in the network and IoT industry that require long-term updates or smaller software updates that keep your devices running at their best capacity, remote SIM provisioning keeps everything up-to-date.
Potential Drawbacks (M2M)
Of course, different types of SIM cards all have challenges along with their benefits. When it comes to eSIM cards and eUICC, there are some drawbacks for M2M deployment, which is part of why the GSMA has set certain standards for eUICC eSIM card uses.
Your fleet of devices can greatly benefit from eSIMs, but keep in mind that while eUICC allows for switching profiles remotely, the switching process can still affect your billing, connectivity management, and company infrastructure. More specifically, some drawbacks are:
- RSP systems. Each network operator runs its own RSP system, and integrating between two operator systems can be both expensive and complicated.
- Upfront costs. Generally, eSIMs are more expensive than physical cards. Though they can potentially save money in the long run, it may be difficult to front the initial cost.
- Infrastructure incompatibility. While a provider may be able to procure a compatible eSIM card, they don’t always have the infrastructure outside of the SIM card to support remote switching.
- Multiple contracts and billings. From the sometimes limited network options, it’s possible to end up managing multiple contracts, and therefore multiple billings.
- Battery limitations. To conserve the battery of the device, devices are sometimes programmed to connect for short intervals, which doesn’t always allow the profile to download completely.
eUICC Examples and Use Cases
Here are just a few examples of how eUICC SIM cards are being employed in today’s IoT era.
Automotive industry. Cars and other vehicles are everywhere, and as more M2M technology is installed, the bigger need there is for global connectivity. Cars that can be made with embedded SIMs that can also be updated remotely can be manufactured easier and at a reduced cost.
Logistics and transportation industry. Both transportation vehicles and the numerous devices that ship goods around the globe need consistent connectivity. No matter where items are being sent, eSIMs offer security in near real-time locations and reliable data.
Global product launches. Global markets also need a lot of flexibility for devices that need to connect from anywhere. If a device is using a phased launch approach, bootstrap profiles can be used initially to cut back on roaming costs and other expenses while evaluating market interest. Then, as volume increases, the devices can be switched to a fully-accessed network.
Stay Fully Connected With eUICC and SIM cards
eSIMs supported by eUICC are becoming an essential part of global IoT operations. That said, not all contracts, providers, and programs supply the same quality of operations or SIM cards. Be sure to fully understand what your SIM provider offers and how switching plans may affect your business.
SIMON IoT specializes in affordable IoT SIM cards that provide everything your fleet of devices may need, including global connectivity for any size business in any industry. Perfect for your M2M fleet, we have a variety of SIM cards, coverage, and data plans, all with transparent pricing, primary carrier options, and more. Contact us today to determine what kind of SIM card and network preferences will work best for your IoT business.