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Why Over-The-Air SIM update platforms are critical to unleash the power of 5G and Internet of Things

In the current 5G era, age of full connected society and intelligent automation, we’re witnessing incredible Internet of Things (IoT) growth, where billions of new IoT devices will be connected. The use cases in the category of Massive Internet of Things are expected to make up a large part of the new types of services that 5G systems will address. Connected objects are now part of our daily life: we can see connected traffic lights, smart homes, connected cars, smart meters everywhere, and connected agriculture better known as smart farming.

In this exciting new connectivity and innovation age, the need for a high performing IoT Over-the-Air (OTA) platform becomes even more critical, to be able to remotely update billions of devices’ SIM cards, scattered all around the globe without issuing out new SIMs. This will enable not only the enhancement of operational efficiency and streamline SIM’ logistics, but also to take advantage of new 5G use cases.

Benefit from 5G & Network slicing
Many operators see network slicing as the primary 5G value proposition. Rather than having a single network serving different use cases, we have network slices that can operate in parallel for specific use cases and requirements: broadband, Internet of Things, or critical communication. This leads to additional opportunities to allocate network resources to a specific entity; a private network as a slice dedicated to a factory, for example. An OTA platform enables the remote configuration of 5G SIM files for slice choice.

Adaptability of the OTA platform
The 5G landscape ushers in a wave of new secure elements alongside the classic SIM, including the Machine-to-Machine SIM (M2M SIM) and embedded SIM (eSIM), all now able to connect to 5G networks. In order to be able to update these different types of secure elements, the 5G Over-The-Air platform has also evolved.

Addressing new use cases relying on Low Power networks and constrained devices
Connected objects are not necessarily rechargeable every day and rely exclusively on batteries that should last for at least 10 years. Smart meters are an example of those objects. Therefore, power consumption is critical and the underlying network technology must match this requirement. There is another key constraint for all those devices: they have to be “always-on” connected even if they are in the countryside, buried under ground or behind a big wall.

This is why OTA technologies need to evolve and support new updating methods. A connected generator, for example, may not be able to receive an SMS, so the IoT OTA platform relies on data connectivity to send updates via the HTTP channel. Similarly, an electricity meter doesn’t have a mobile number (MSISDN), so the OTA platform once again adapts to the specific IoT need and uses the IMSI value to target that device card. In other use cases, IoT devices are often connection-less, or offline for long periods of time—a connected container traveling the world on the open seas, for example. The IoT OTA platform is able to detect when these devices re-attach to the network coverage area and send updates accordingly.

Release stress from the networks
The explosion of IoT devices put pressure on the networks. Therefore end-of-life policies for communicating devices will become a major new challenge. Many of these IoT devices—such as smart meters or infrastructure equipment in smart cities—will try to connect to corresponding network providers even though they have been unsubscribed from the service. Multiplied by the thousands, this will create unnecessary stress on networks. With the IoT OTA platform, this continuous connectivity communication can be limited to the bare minimum or even completely switched off.

Enhance end-to-end security with IoT SAFE
In the 5G era, security risks are greater than before due to the combination of cloud, data and IoT security threats. The pandemic has intensified cyber threats.

The IoT OTA platform enables enhanced security capabilities such as the IoT SAFE solution as recommended by the GSMA which is meant to provide end-to-end protection of all bi-directional communications with IoT devices (Device-to-Cloud but also Device-to Device).

Monitor Quality of Service to enhance customer service
The OTA platform also allows mobile operators or Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to monitor the quality of the customer service. This means monitoring the network access technology, the coverage quality, the data accessibility, the time to attach, the cause of any dropped calls or any problems accessing the network. Mobile operators can use this data source not only for the maintenance of their network elements or to reconfigure SIM cards Over-The-Air but also to take informed decisions and improve customer service and experience for better customer loyalty. Regulators may also rely on this data to ensure that operators meet the minimum coverage requirements to maintain their license.

Enable mission-critical connectivity
The IoT OTA platform is evolving in order to answer new connectivity challenges. For example, many countries are trying to ensure the best and always-on connectivity for their emergency services. This is done through the update of priority class and radio policy files which, once again, can be updated via OTA. Several mission-critical industries (air and land transportation, military, police, for example) are also building their LTE/5G Private Networks with their own SIM, Multi-IMSI or eSIM cards. Here, OTA updates can also help reconfigure cards in real-time so that the connected devices will always attach to the best network.

As the 5G and IoT era unleash a variety of devices throughout the world, deep understanding of SIM card technology and best-in-class OTA platforms will be essential enablers to continue to adapt to the connectivity challenges of today and tomorrow.

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