The GSM Association, the group behind SIM cards and GSM networks, is launching an embedded SIM initiative that will usher in a connected future for smart devices, ranging from always-connected cameras, appliances, smart meters, and e-readers. As the smartphone market is beginning to mature and developers are finding new ways to make life easier with connected applications on these mobile devices, network operators and engineers are finding innovative uses for smarter devices around your homes–from connected appliances to e-readers–to leverage a carrier’s mobile broadband connection so that a wired or WiFi connection wouldn’t be needed. The GSMA writes in a news release:
“The traditional SIM has been an important innovation in mobile telephony, and has provided many benefits to consumers in terms of security, portability of contacts, and ease of portability of devices across networks,” said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board of the GSMA. “As our industry moves from connecting phones to connecting a wide range of devices, it is apparent that the embedded SIM could deliver even greater flexibility. The embedded SIM will provide assured levels of security and portability for consumers, as well as provide additional functionality for enabling new services such as e-Wallet and NFC applications.”
Embedded solutions have been found in the past on e-readers. The original Kindle leveraged always-available 3G connection from Sprint’s mobile broadband network. Since then, the Kindle and the Nook have switched to using AT&T’s network, which uses GSM technology and a SIM card, to make it easier to arrange roaming arrangements for travelers overseas.
With the rise of tablets and social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, embedded SIM cards in digital photo frames and cameras would make it easier to upload and download pictures and enable sharing of photos and videos with family and friends seamlessly. Rather than having to wait to get home to upload a picture to Facebook, smart cameras with embedded mobile broadband chips can automatically upload pictures as you take it.
Embedded services are also known in the industry as M2M, or Machine-to-Machine. A few weeks ago, Sprint had unveiled a brand new M2M Collaboration Center just south of San Francisco to attract developers to create and innovate on ways to embed Sprint’s 3G and/or 4G solutions in new applications and designs. One such demonstration shows the power of a human kiosk, which is a display with an embedded 3G or 4G chip. Placed inside a shopping mall or complex, the display can serve as a concierge and users can tap the display to get a live person to help them over video conferencing. This technology can evolve to be used in the medical field, according to the local Sprint PR representative in San Francisco, so that doctors can be at home or at a more advanced medical facility, and guide their colleagues through complicated medical and surgical procedures from afar.
Another application that Sprint was showing off is smart vending machines, which can talk to the service station to alert them if the vending machines are full or if the machines are running out of a particular item. This eliminates the cost of sending out an agent to manage inventory in a vending machine and operators can be quickly alerted if the vending machine is out of order or jammed.
With embedded mobile broadband solutions, the unique thing about Sprint’s M2M Collaboration Center is that if developers use an off-the-shelf embedded Sprint 3G/4G module, then the device that they create wouldn’t need to go through FCC certification. According to Sprint executives on-hand at the center’s grand opening, Sprint says that it has two partners that will create those wireless modules, which had already undergone FCC certification, so that when you embed it in your solution–like an e-reader or tablet–you wouldn’t need to submit your device for U.S. regulatory approval again. However, if you create your own solution or use your own chip, you’d have to talk to the FCC. Another benefit with working with Sprint through the M2M Center is that Sprint will provide the laboratory space to test and trial your application to ensure that your device will communicate with the network and act appropriately in real-world testing. Large or small, the center is scalable and can accommodate a variety of different projects, from cars to tiny modules and chips. Best of all, developers would be free to use the the center and its basic services, unless they require professional setup or expertise.
And unlike consumer solutions for mobile broadband solutions, Sprint says developers can negotiate directly with them to include the cost of the mobile broadband connection in their product’s price, much like what Amazon had done with the Kindle. Sprint can look at the applications and development to see how much data would be consumed, and negotiate with developers appropriately on the pricing for mobile broadband.
The future of mobile broadband is spreading from phones and USB modems and MiFi units to other connected devices. These smart devices will hopefully drive growth in the industry, and operators like Sprint are poised to take advantage of M2M solutions.