SoftBank’s new take on SIM cards the perfect ingredient for IoT

30 Mar 2017

Image: justyle/Shutterstock

SIM cards are a necessity with connected devices, though having to change them around is a problem. SoftBank is hoping to fix that.

At the moment, the SIM card in your smartphone is the key tangible aspect of your connection to the digital world. Registered to you, it contains your carrier data, providing you with a door to the online universe.

If you switch provider, you need a new SIM – though that will soon change, just in time for the internet of things (IoT).

Japanese tech giant SoftBank’s fingerprints are all over tomorrow’s burgeoning industries: connected cars, IoT and robotics.

For it to truly make any of these fields a viable industry, the idea of multi-use is key. Traditional SIM cards do not allow for this.

SoftBank is developing an ‘embedded SIM’ (eSIM) platform, which means that a SIM card can be remotely reprogrammed, never needing to be reinstalled.

The appeal is clear. When selling devices embedded with M2M equipment to markets around the world, the need for dedicated SIMs is a frustrating obstacle, creating necessary profiles to connect to the respective communication networks of overseas carriers.

In February last year, the GSMA standards body proposed new eSIM plans for the wearables market.

“This new specification gives consumers the freedom to remotely connect devices, such as wearables, to a mobile network of their choice, and continues to evolve the process of connecting new and innovative devices,” said Alex Sinclair, CTO of GSMA, at the time.

Through SoftBank’s plan – something Samsung has worked on recently, too – eSIMs integrated into IoT products and M2M equipment allow companies to remotely provide the cards with the profiles required for connecting to various carrier networks.

For tablets, wearables and other consumer devices equipped with eSIMs, the platform will also enable the remote provisioning of preregistered contract details and other types of information.

The way the platform will work is outlined below, with graphics for the M2M and wearables scenarios.

Infographic: SoftBank

Infographic: SoftBank

Given that the organisation is heavily interested in other areas of IoT, solving the SIM card problem is an obvious focus.

SoftBank recently saw its autonomous bus project gain significant support from Yahoo Japan, with the latter investing $4.5m into the SB Drive project.

The programme aims to smarten up the bus network around rural areas of Japan, helping to satisfy the country’s ageing population.

The company is aiming to conduct tests on public roads next year, with the eventual target of a commercial service by 2020.

Last year, SoftBank’s £24bn purchase of semiconductor manufacturer ARM went through, the biggest move in the attempt to corner a substantial portion of the IoT market that is rapidly bringing devices of all shapes and sizes online.

Elsewhere, its $1bn fund to support global tech innovation saw Apple stump up 10pc of the total capital.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic