Evolution of SIM Cards

The Evolution of SIMS: we've come a long way, baby

For more than 25 years the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card has been fundamental in the development of mobile telecommunications. First introduced in 1991 SIMs began life about the size of a credit card and were designed to store information used to identify and authenticate users.

SIMs were also used to connect devices to 2G GSM (Global System of Mobile Communications).  SIM advancements have developed in close parallel with advances in cellular network evolution – but not all SIM cards were created equal.

SIMs & IoT

The rise of IoT meant the development of a different kind of SIM. While an IoT SIM acts similarly to a standard SIM, it does a very different job, offering features and functionalities that you won’t find on the SIM you have in your phone.

One main difference is the subscription type; among other things, an IoT subscription allows you to monitor data usage and SIM activity, you can activate and deactivate it, and you are able lock it to a device. You can also share data across all devices and have multi-operator coverage.

Another difference is the robustnes, since SIMs are often found in harsh environmental conditions. While standard SIMs only possess a 25°C to 85°C temperature range, an industrial IoT SIM can operate to temperatures as low as -40°C and as high as 105°C. Industrial IoT SIMs also enjoy a much longer life span than standard SIMS, due to their 17-year data retention capability, increased storage capacity, and as many as 16 million read-write cycles. Industrial IoT SIMs can come in any form factor, depending on the size of the device and the purpose it serves.

As SIMs continue to evolve, particularly in the IoT arena, the impact on business will be tremendous.

New SIM technology

With everything from smart homes to autonomous cars and Industry 4.0, the integration of IoT technology into both our everyday lives and a company’s core business is inevitable. But first we need to turn on the eSIM, which in many ways holds the key to the connected world.

Unlike with smart phones, where you can connect to WiFi and download an eSIM profile, with IoT there is not a person to connect and download the eSIM locally, so it has to be done remotely.

And there-in lies the beauty of the eSIM: everything can be managed remotely, including switching your connectivity provider, which offers tremendous savings when it comes to logistics and field support. And having a solution based on the global GSMA standard means you ensure both compatibility and future proofing.

Speaking of the future, what is next in store for IoT when it comes to SIM cards? Will they even be with us in five or ten years’ time – or will we have already moved on?

Predicting the future

In the future, we could see all devices connected through secure connections enabled by SIM technology, and it will be possible to change a subscription model remotely for optimal connectivity. eSIMs introduce a truly digital distribution of connectivity which enables new business models to evolve.

We’ll also see a higher degree of embedded SIMs, meaning SIMs that are built-in, where essentially there is no plug-in SIM at all in the connectivity-enabled devices.  These will play a big role in how quickly and seamlessly tracking devices connect.

An embedded SIM is a hardware-centric SIM integrated into the chipset. These SIMs will, among other things, simplify supply chains, enable smaller devices, improve power consumption, reduce costs, and maintain high security levels.

Chipsets, modules, and other hardware components will be produced with eSIMs, with provisioning connectivity profiles, which means the end product can connect directly.  The connectivity provider profile can be remotely changed if and when needed, and we thus move from a linear to a circular SIM lifecycle.

Because an eSIM can store multiple connectivity profiles we will also see more functionality being developed on top of the SIM – so-called SIM applets. SIM applets are small programs inside your SIM dedicated to fulfilling a particular task. This could be implementing the business logic to change a connectivity profile based on rules, such as when one network is not available.  This would provide redundancy for high-availability solutions, such as alarms.  Another business logic could be to automatically change a profile based on which which country the IoT device is trying to connect in.

SIM technology will continue to evolve to support new business logic and value creation – and SIM functionality will remain critical to your IoT solution in securely identifying and authenticating every device.