The missing link in Industry 4.0’s connectivity chain

In short, the industrial IoT (IIoT) enables machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, making manufacturing facilities smart and digitalised. By using sensors to capture factory floor data, manufacturers gain a comprehensive overview of their facility to optimise processes, improve machine performance, reduce waste and energy consumption, and result in less unexpected downtime. But what is the technology behind getting connected?

Getting manufacturers connected

Connecting IoT devices over a mobile network is referred to as the cellular IoT. Using existing mobile networks removes the need for a separate, dedicated infrastructure. Instead, a range of networks can be used — whether that’s 3G, 4G, 5G, or IoT-specific networks.

LTE-M and NB-IoT are networks designed specifically for IoT connections. While LTE- M offers a lower price point and voice and SMS support, NB-IoT offers low power, low data usage for long range and reliability. Whichever network is used, connecting devices to the cellular IoT through the traditional SIM cards presents several challenges for manufacturers.

Deployment difficulties

An IoT SIM card has traditionally been responsible for connecting a device to the network. But it doesn’t come without its challenges.

IoT SIM cards typically only allow a device to connect to one carrier network. When deploying devices globally across multiple networks, or working with devices that are involved in the supply chain or logistics that move across the world, this creates a logistical nightmare. Manufacturers must source and distribute physical SIMs for a local network for each device.

As SIM cards need to be removable for maintenance or carrier changes, IoT devices cannot be sealed, meaning that harsh operating conditions are more likely to damage a device. There are also the added concerns that having a removable element exposes IoT devices to risks of service theft.

eSIMs are the future

While IoT SIM cards do the job, these challenges are hard to ignore when there’s a solution on hand. eSIMs, or embedded SIMs, are a digital alternative to physical SIMs, connecting devices to a network over the air. Initially adopted for wearable devices and connected cars, eSIMs are also now a key component of the IIoT.

Unlike physical SIM cards, eSIMs download network credentials onto a chip on the printed circuit board of an IoT device through over-the-air provisioning. Eliminating the physical component of a SIM makes the entire network onboarding process remote, which has a wealth of benefits for manufacturers.

eSIMs eliminate the problems associated with IoT SIM cards — the device’s network is determined after the production, shipment and deployment of an IoT device. Manufacturers can easily swap connectivity providers as and when required for ultimate flexibility depending on device location or subscription cost.

Provisioning network credentials over the air means the eSIMs are connected and maintained remotely. There’s no need to physically handle a device to make changes to its connectivity, making devices more durable and less prone to environmental damage.

In terms of security, an eSIM’s location on a small chip on the circuit board means it’s not removable. Being physically soldered to the device eliminates risks of physical theft of the SIM, as it’s hard to identify and impossible to remove.

In this way, IoT devices can be deployed without any local human control of the connectivity — all responsibility lies with the manufacturer’s service provider (SPs). Mobilise’s HERO platform supplies SPs with a cloud based eSIM orchestration layer, to enable eSIM provisioning, management, enterprise billing and CRM systems. This means SPs take responsibility for managing subscriptions, taking the pain out of cellular connectivity for manufacturing users.

While IIoT is nothing new for manufacturers, making it more streamlined, convenient and digital is key to its continued success. Adopting eSIM technology alleviates some of the pain points manufacturers are experiencing, making operations slicker and opening a world of opportunity for more efficient processes.

 

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