An embedded SIM can make your smart watch smarter

Wearables have been given a boost with a new SIM specification that could pave the way to a wave of new connected devices joining the mobile network. Remote SIM Provisioning (RSP) enables operators to remotely manage the SIM embedded in a connected device to allow access to mobile network services. The technology has been developed for devices that cannot accommodate a removable SIM and reader, or would benefit from a significant reduction in size.

The first release of the technical specification was announced on 18 February, and then presented publicly at the Future of SIM seminar at the GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC).

The GSMA brought together 40 major players from across the mobile industry including operators, device manufacturers and SIM vendors to create RSP. By investing a collective 17,000 hours in developing the standard, the industry has demonstrated its commitment to interoperability.

“Two years ago we started to ask: how do we connect a device that doesn’t have a user interface and how do you authenticate the user of the device?” said Carsten Ahrens, Head of Telecoms at Giesecke & Devrient. “You would think this is fairly straightforward but you need an industry-wide solution to the problem and that takes time to agree.”

Speaking at the seminar, Jean-Christophe Tisseuil, Head of SIM at the GSMA said: “We have united the industry to establish a single way of distributing SIM card tokens electronically that will be secure, fully interoperable and portable between devices. RSP allows an operator to remotely manage the (eUICC) SIM embedded in a wearable or a tablet device to allow access to mobile network service. We believe it will lead to a new generation of smaller, lighter, mobile-connected devices, that are better suited for wearable technology applications.”

Simple activation


In the initial specifications, RSP details how a profile is provisioned to a connected device via a QR code downloaded to a companion device such as a smartphone. This video filmed at MWC shows a Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 watch being provisioned and activated in minutes.

Benoit Jouffrey, Vice President of On-Demand Connectivity at Gemalto, said: “We wanted a process that was simple for the end user. The voucher is just the first step. As the specifications develop, we will develop even simpler ways for authenticating an embedded SIM.”

Backed by operators

Mobile operators are supportive of the RSP spec.  “We’ve had remote SIM provision for years, but only for industrial devices,” added Peter Becker-Pennrich, Product Management Director, Devices at Vodafone Group. “It would not have been a very nice experience if you tried to use this process for consumer devices. Using the control panel was too complicated. RSP is frictionless in comparison.”

Philippe Lucas, Senior Vice President, Standardisation & Ecosystems Development at Orange, also highlighted how existing processes were not well suited to connected devices. “We already offer online subscription. It takes about 5 minutes, that’s all. But then I have to wait 5 days for the SIM card to be sent through the post. eSIM digitises the distribution of the SIM card.”

With a SIM designed specifically for consumer connected devices, AT&T believes it could kick-start a wave of new customers on the network: “Over the last two years, we haven’t seen the wearables sector grow as quickly as we would like. RSP will let device manufacturers be more creative and we can support them,” says Vijay Perumbeti, Assistant Vice President of Standards and Industry Alliances, AT&T.

Smart devices to boom

With broad support from operators and leading SIM vendors, device manufacturers will have a global market to address. They will be able to develop one model of connected device which will be compatible with all mobile networks that have adopted the RSP specifications.

Combined with the falling costs of LTE radio modules, RSP could be a major driver in more device types embracing cellular. These could encompass a wide range of wearables and ‘pocketables’, for instance headphones, portable speakers, cameras, jewellery, clothing, drones, tablets, e-readers, personal assistants, baby monitors, connected toys and pet trackers, among others.

Mobile network operators, mobile device manufacturers and SIM vendors have worked closely together through the GSMA initiative to deliver a specification that will allow consumers to easily activate the SIM embedded in a range of devices with a subscription from a mobile network operator of their choice. The initiative does not aim to replace all SIM cards in the field, but is instead designed to help users connect multiple devices through the same subscription and will help mobile device manufacturers to develop a new range of smaller, lighter mobile-connected devices that are better suited for wearable technology applications.

Biggest names in mobile

The RSP specification is backed by the world’s largest operators including AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, CK Hutchison, Deutsche Telekom, EE, Etisalat, KDDI, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Rogers, SFR, Sprint, SK Telecom, Telefónica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Telstra, TIM, Verizon and Vodafone. It is also supported by SIM and chipset vendors including Gemalto, Giesecke & Devrient, Morpho (Safran), Oasis, Oberthur Technologies, STMicroelectronics, Qualcomm and Valid, as well as device makers including Alcatel, Apple, BlackBerry, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony.

Watch a demonstration of provisioning a Samsung Gear S2 watch or download the RSP specifications.