The average device spends 86% of its lifetime in the hands of the end customer: the remaining 14% of the lifecycle covers manufacture, testing and transportation.
For Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and their global enterprise customers alike, the testing, distribution and SIM activation of fleets of IoT-enabled devices can be very difficult to handle, leading to costly manual operations that very often can have a negative impact on the customer experience.
These issues stem from the need to activate and deactivate embedded connectivity during manufacture and testing. But, to better understand these problems, it is first worth understanding the typical SIM journey in an IoT-embedded device.
Current embedded SIM lifecycle – embedded inefficiencies?
The SIM lifecycle today
- Step 1: Device manufacturing with embedded SIM card
- Step 2: Activate SIM card
Step 3: Perform tests
- Step 4: Suspend SIM card
- Step 5: Ship/store/sell the device
- Step 6: Re-activate SIM card
- Step 7: End customer uses the device
To put this lifecycle into context, we can look at the example of a device manufacturer producing smart plugs as part of a smart home solution offering. In this case, the SIM card is embedded in the device in a factory in Germany, where it is also first activated for testing. Once testing is complete, the SIM is suspended and the solution is sent to another country where it remains in storage for weeks or even months. Once the solution is sold, it is then finally shipped to the consumer where the embedded SIM is activated for a second time by the device manufacturer. Under the current SIM lifecycle, inefficiencies arise due to these two points of activation.
- The first time the SIM is activated is at the OEM, for the purpose of testing, to ensure that the sensor has full functionality. As soon as the SIM is activated for testing, the fees associated with activation and monthly recurring charges begin for the manufacturer. Given that SIM activation and testing often take place several months before these connected devices are owned or used by the end customer, these costs have to be paid for by the OEM as they cannot be passed onto the customer. For manufacturers of devices such as sensors, connected vehicles, or smart trackers, the total number of devices may number into thousands or millions, creating an enormous cumulative cost. To avoid this, the SIM card is typically deactivated or suspended once testing is complete. However, this still incurs the cost of activation and that month’s fee.
- When the devices reach the end customer, suspended SIM cards can create an unreliable or unpredictable user experience. Standard automated processes for activating these cards are not guaranteed to work and manual intervention may be required to ensure that they work as intended. As a result, the connected service which depends on the SIM may not be plug-and-play. Returning to the example of smart home solutions, this may mean that basic functionality (i.e. connecting to the customer’s mobile device and other sensors) isn’t available and the product may not work as intended.
The issues arising with the two points of activation lead to customer dissatisfaction in addition to high operational and administrative overheads associated with manually activating SIMs through an API.
A better way of managing SIMs and device connectivity
Automation is the best way to address these issues. With a fully automated SIM lifecycle, there is no requirement for manual administration and the associated overheads can be avoided. Automation cuts development and integration requirements, shrinking the time-to-market and boosting margins.
Such a model, known as zero-touch provisioning, depends on a platform that can handle the complete device lifecycle transition from manufacturer to end customer. Rather than simply moving SIMs between activated and deactivated states, this model emulates the device lifecycle with the SIM lifecycle. For instance, when it comes to testing, SIMs can move to an “active-test” state where they use a limited amount of services for free. Likewise, when it comes to storage they can be moved to an “active-inventory” state in which they can be suspended for a fixed period of time without incurring any fees.
With this in mind, there is a new SIM lifecycle that is fit for the purposes of OEMs and their enterprise customers.
The new SIM lifecycle
- Step 1: Device manufacturing with embedded SIM
- Step 2: Activate SIM cards (Auto switch to Active-test state)
- Step 3: Perform tests
- Step 4: Ship/Store/Sell the device (Auto switch to Active-Inventory state)
- Step 5: End customer uses the device (Auto switch to Active state)
While such a process depends on correctly implementing new active-test and active-inventory states, SIMs must also be able to move through this process seamlessly without the need for direct action or oversight from the manufacturer. For the manufacturer this makes a smoother process that doesn’t involve greater cost or legwork. And for the customer this means a more reliable plug-and-play experience that gives them immediate access to the services they need.
Redesigning the SIM lifecycle in this manner yields significant benefits to both OEMs and their customers. It streamlines the SIM lifecycle and ensures an accurate and appropriate cost model. Adopting this new lifecycle will help OEMs increase revenue and improve the customer experience without involving complex or cost-prohibitive processes.