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13 November 2019

Qualcomm and Huawei push NuSIM towards de facto standard status

The ‘open’ embedded SIM (eSIM) technology supported by Deutsche Telekom, nuSIM, has been chosen by Qualcomm for use in its 9205 LTE modem, which supports NB-IoT, LTE-M and 2G IoT connections. Huawei’s chip subsidiary, HiSilicon, has followed suit, using nuSIM in its Hi2115 NB-IoT system-on-chip, and demonstrating the connection in a Quectel module, the BC95-G.

This is a big development in the world of IoT-focused eSIM, as the vendors try to reduce hardware costs to facilitate wider adoption. With these two giants opting for NuSIM, rather than their own solutions, the technology is well on the way to becoming the standard choice.

nuSIM was unveiled in the run up to this year’s Mobile World Congress in February, The launch supporters from the semiconductor side included Altair, Commsolid (Goodix), HiSilicon (Huawei), Nordic Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Samsung and Siemens; plus module makers Quectel, Sierra Wireless, Telit and u-blox. Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) also came on board from the digital security segment.

Major SIM security players Gemalto and Idemia were noticeably absent from that list, but since the launch, Gemalto has signed up; and other new additions include Fibocom, Gosuncn, MeiG, Neoway and SIMcom. Deutsche Telekom says it has 16 design wins to date.

“The industrial sector is undergoing a digital transformation and we are collaborating with many industrial IoT companies today. We are proud to have been working with Deutsche Telekom and its nuSIM technology from day one of its conception,” said Dino Flore, VP of technology at Qualcomm Europe. “It will allow IoT device manufacturers to offer ‘out-of-the-box’ cellular connectivity for the end user. It’s this kind of innovation that will enable the creation of a new generation of IoT devices.”

In a statement, Qualcomm said it expects the 9205 modem to be used most in tracking and utility metering applications. It added that, since the launch of nuSIM, the supporters have been working on the shared specification “to create an open and fully interoperable ecosystem from concept stage through to implementation”.

NuSIM has further to go before it becomes a de facto standard that others cannot ignore, but it has certainly taken important steps down that path at hardware level.

The enthusiasm of the chipset and module makers is to be expected. They have suffered from slow adoption because of the relatively high prices of LTE-based IoT offerings, and removing the physical SIM from the devices should enable simpler circuitry designs and form factors, ultimately leading to a lower price. However, a glut of old 2G and 3G still hampers purchasing decisions, and while operators want to refarm 3G, and eventually even the 2G M2M spectrum, the LTE components are still typically more expensive.

So, the hardware developers are turning to the rest of the stack to improve the business case for 4G IoT with standardized eSIM. As Qualcomm points out, adding the SIM functions to the chipset itself removes “related logistics, stock keeping, and feeding efforts”, all of which are costs that the operator has to take on.

There are others in the chain that would benefit from design simplicity. The MVNOs, the platform-as-a-service providers, and even the systems integrators, could all have their workloads significantly reduced using eSIM, as they can switch carriers and push updates without having to swap out the SIM card. In order for the IoT to scale to the full, the cost and complexity of on-boarding a device has to be reduced, and in the cellular and licensed low power WAN (L-LPWAN) world, eSIM is a necessary step.