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ARM and embedded SIM

ARM and embedded SIM
by Bernard Murphy on 03-06-2018 at 7:00 am

It seems that a hot ticket at Mobile World Congress this year was embedded SIM announcements. As a reminder of why this space is hot, cellular communication for provisioning and data uploads is a very real option for many IoT devices. In agricultural, smart energy and asset tracking applications for example, near-range options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth obviously aren’t viable. And since IoT is scaling up fast (GSMA suggests a $1.8T opportunity for operators by 2026) and conventional SIM cards are hopelessly unscalable as a way to manage credentials and keys, embedded SIM solutions, updatable over the air (OTA), look like the way to go.


ARM just announced their Kigen (pronounced Keegan or perhaps Keygen) product in this space, building on their acquisition of Simulity, a provider of operating systems for SIMs along with related server support. They call this iSIM which they position as more advanced MFF2 (chip SIM) though others seem to consider eSIM to be more in line with what ARM is promoting. Whatever – in either case the idea is a device soldered into the system (rather than plugged into a SIM socket) which can be provisioned and updated OTA.

This being ARM, the hardware can be built around their MCUs and Cordio radio IP with iSIM providing the SIM function, typically based on a secure enclave through CryptoIsland and the Simulity OS software (Kigen OS+). Also, following the philosophy of their PSA architecture, there is a server component to the solution, which I believe is also from the Simulity acquisition. This is designed to meet the needs of mobile network operators (MNOs), IoT service providers, OEM and module makers and enterprises that will be using these solutions.

From ARM’s perspective, for enterprises their iSIM solution enables in-field flexibility, a longer lifespan of deployment and lower-cost devices. For operators it offers the ability to scale IoT deployments while maintaining the integrity of their networks. And for OEMs and device/system-makers it offers the ability to serve global markets with local provisioning.

ARM was quite clear in their pre-announcement discussion that customers are free to mix and match hardware and software in their total eSIM solutions, probably wise since this is an emerging and therefore probably evolving space. That said, it is interesting to compare a turnkey ARM solution with other options. One thing ARM does well is to provide for the total system – from cloud to edge device. Adding iSIM brings in network credentialing. And their strong position in edge hardware and software, particularly given their experience in security, is unarguable. So if the shortest path to a complete solution, widely-supported, is what you need it would be difficult to fault ARM’s offering.

Who wouldn’t want that? Many would, but one reason there may be a healthy market for alternatives would be security through diversity. The eSIM/iSIM authenticates whoever wants access rights so that’s a rather critical part of the chain. When it comes to security, we’re starting to realize that there’s no such thing as too many defensive walls. The technical walls are clear – secure zones, encryption and so on but a couple of methods have nothing to do with technology. Security through obscurity (don’t publicize details of your security design, providers, etc), for all it is derided, it still widely practiced and, as long it’s not your only line of defense, rightly so. Why make it easy for hackers to know where to start?

Security through diversity takes the view that you shouldn’t use the same solutions that everyone else uses. If you’re a hacker and you know there are 3 widely-used security solutions in the market, where will you focus your energy? Probably on the most popular solution; who has time to work on three? So another layer of defense is to use one of the less widely-adopted solutions. If they meet all other needs, why not?

All makes for an interesting world and healthy competition. You can learn more about Kigen and iSIM HERE.


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