An Interview With Thales

POSTED BY Chris Phillips

We sat down with Jose Sanchez, Head of Product Line Management Solutions at Thales, to talk about the latest breakthroughs in IoT and the “magic” of the Company’s new Cinterion® Connectivity Activation Solution.

1. After percolating for decades, the Internet of Things is experiencing astounding growth with billions of IoT connections powering everything from smart meters to connected cars to intelligent healthcare applications. Why now? Can you tell us a little about the latest breakthroughs that are driving this exponential growth?

It’s true – IoT technology is booming! It’s an exciting time for our industry and all the industries that benefit from IoT capabilities. There are over 35 billion IoT connections today and that number is growing every week.

The evolution of cellular wireless networks is certainly one of the main drivers of growth – 4G, LPWA solutions like LTE-M, NB-IoT, and 5G technologies are expanding bandwidth and network capacity while lowering costs. But even more, the growing adoption of eSIM technology is transforming the way wireless services are activated and maintained over long product lifecycles. This has changed the game for IoT.

All IoT solutions depend on seamless and reliable connectivity – from the first use of a device to the end of its life. Thales recently launched the Thales Cinterion® Connectivity Activation Solution, the world’s first all-in-one IoT connectivity activation and lifecycle management platform. It combines the capabilities of an IoT module, an eSIM, a secure digital device ID, and a device lifecycle management solution into a single product SKU that can be deployed for any Mobile Network Operator (MNO) anywhere in the world. It’s one of the most significant breakthroughs in the last decade.

The Cinterion solution tackles the challenges of connectivity activation, subscription provisioning and MNO selection and it works from the factory to the field and throughout the long lifecycle of industrial IoT devices. It uses the power and flexibility of the Cinterion IoT eSIM which is integrated into the latest Cinterion IoT Modules and Gateways along with the Cinterion IoT Suite to get connected, stay connected, and pivot easily to new service plans and providers as needed. Our new platform helps eliminate network disruption, boost Return on Investment (ROI), and meet demanding Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

2. As the IoT continues to expand and 5G opens up even more possibilities, what are the biggest technology challenges?

For 25 years, we’ve worked with customers in a wide range of critical industries – from smart grids, smart cities, and connected cars to security systems, tracking and tracing applications, and logistics. The common thread linking all these is the crucial need for trusted, secure IoT solutions and seamless connections. Simplifying the activation process and reducing product variants required with various MNOs and MVNOs, provisioning across the globe, and future-proofing are all key considerations.

Take the example of smart meters and smart grids rolling out worldwide. A digital grid ecosystem is essential for emerging sustainable microgeneration systems. In addition, the cost savings, improved productivity and efficiency of smart grids are impressive and compelling. The same holds true in many other industrial sectors – smart agriculture, smart manufacturing, alarm system and more. However, missing or poor quality connectivity, especially in rural areas, can be a serious issue. Solving these connectivity problems traditionally means changing or updating the metering device at the customer’s site. Since each product is MNO-specific, managing the large number of product variants required for all the mobile carriers in a region can be challenging.

A technician would show up at the site, run signal strength tests to determine the best service provider for the location, go back to the truck or warehouse to get the right part, and then install it. Because cellular networks are constantly evolving, service fluctuations can occur that require service visits to fine-tune or change devices. To simplify the process, companies want the flexibility to be able to switch carriers remotely when needed, without having to physically update each smart meter.

To complicate things further, meters last 10-15 years, but carrier contracts are typically 5-6 years. Thales’s Connectivity® Activation Solution enables easy migration to new network operators, while eliminating the need for costly, time-consuming manpower to update modules in the field.

3. How does the Thales Connectivity® Activation Solution differ from traditional solutions? Does it work differently?

Managing SIMs for this many devices and connections is incredibly complicated. You could manage it by having meters with SIM card slots for easy changes, but that would require a costly service visit. Not a great option. What’s more, the SIM card needs to be soldered into place to last 10-15 years which makes updating more challenging. A SIM with multiple operator subscriptions is a possible option, but that dramatically increases the connectivity bill which is not sustainable or cost-effective for most applications. Using SIMs on roaming is a possibility, but you can’t log on to any networks while roaming, it’s cost-prohibitive and it’s even banned in some countries for security reasons.

The Thales IoT Connectivity® Activation Solution combines four essential connectivity elements into one product. It offers an advanced Thales IoT eSIM, the on/off switch and security guardian; a high-quality IoT Module, the cellular radio that enables connectivity; a digital ID injected into the IoT Module during secure manufacturing; and an end-to-end lifecycle management solution that remotely manages connectivity and security updates for long-life applications.

The solution eliminates the need to handle any physical SIMs during device manufacturing, personalization, installation and updating. Just like consumer smartphones or gadgets can be activated and updated from home, the Connectivity Activation Solution provides the same type of services for industrial IoT solutions in remote locations across the globe. And it does so remotely without Wi-Fi or tethering by leveraging unique global Thales bootstrap connectivity based on the award-winning Thales Instant Connect technology. It can handle remote provisioning of connectivity profiles during manufacturing, at device personalization centres, or at the time of installation. This way, the best mobile network is selected based on signal strength, geography, and other conditions, and it enables switching to a backup connectivity provider to ensure uninterrupted service without a service visit.

During the long IoT device lifecycle, many things can happen – for instance, an operator may discontinue support for your technology but another network provider may become available. With the forward-thinking Connectivity® Activation Solution, those options are easily available, bringing operational and commercial resilience.

Thales is paving the way for seamless, secure, flexible and future-proofed connectivity in the industrial IoT space. That tiny eSIM embedded into Cinterion IoT Modules is a little bit of magic when it comes to the future adoption and innovation of IoT.

Find out more: https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/digital-identity-and-security/iot/iot-services/esim