Market Overview and Challenges for Wearable Devices
Growth of the wearable device market has been one of the key technological trends of recent years. The term ‘wearable technology’ encompasses ultra-low power devices that can be worn on the body and which contain computer technology.
Trusted Connectivity Alliance’s interest is in wearable devices enabled with mobile connectivity. This type of wearable device can either be autonomously connected to a mobile network visa its own modem and a SIM / eSIM or coupled with a connected primary device such as a smartphone.
In the latter case, a wearable device may still contain its own SIM or eSIM (i.e. it does not rely on a primary device for network identification). Due to limited user interfaces on certain wearables however, it may rely on coupling with a connected device through a local communication bearer, typically Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for eSIM personalisation or to facilitate set up.
Increasingly, device manufacturers are realising the benefits of incorporating mobile connectivity within wearable devices, such as broad reach across inhabited areas, low infrastructure costs, reduced deployment costs and quick implementation times. One of the key advantages is that wearable devices can communicate directly with the mobile network in the same way as a smart phone does. This means that tethering is no longer required for data processing and unlimited connectivity, while wearable functionality can be enhanced to offer standalone voice, text, browsing and payments services for example. Untethered wearable devices with mobile connectivity offer enormous potential for the development of an unforeseen volume of applications across multiple market sectors.
In parallel, the security of mobile networks has been proven over decades.
Health and fitness has emerged as the ‘killer app’ for wearables and has cemented smartwatches and wristbands as the dominant form factor. Personalised, real-time user data collected by wearable devices is also being utilised to drive innovation across the healthcare, insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
As wearable technology continues to advance, those involved in bringing them to market must consider multiple technical, logistical and security requirements:
Flexible / standalone connectivity – as the functionality and potential of wearable devices continues to increase exponentially, always-on standalone connectivity is a key consideration.
Privacy – wearable devices collate, store and transmit an unprecedented and unparalleled combination of exceptionally sensitive, high-value user data. Protecting the data stored on the device and over the network must be a priority.
Data tampering – with data from wearables increasingly being utilised across various industries, such as to diagnose patients or calculate insurance premiums, the consequences of data tampering are profound. It is critical to ensure the integrity and accuracy of user data that is stored and transmitted.
Software / firmware authenticity and integrity – It is imperative that the authenticity and integrity of the software / firmware within a wearable device is not compromised by malicious actors.
Management of mobile subscriptions across multiple devices – As global device volumes increase, the ability to share one subscription across multiple devices will become important to ensure end-user convenience. Consumers must have the ability to manage device subscriptions flexibly.
Lost and stolen devices – More advanced, powerful devices are increasingly a high-value target for thieves. In parallel, the use of wearables in active and dynamic environments raises the risk of devices being dislodged and lost. Sensitive data stored on the device should be protected if it falls into unauthorised hands.
Why Trusted Connectivity Alliance
The importance of security and simplicity within wearable deployments, and the increasing reliance on mobile networks to enhance device functionality and connectivity, means that the following assets of the SE industry are now more relevant than ever within this ecosystem:
- A long established and secure process landscape.
- An established IT infrastructure capable of remotely managing the lifecycle of global SIM / eSIM deployments;
- Developed trust relationships with MNOs;
- An advanced understanding of mobile connectivity / MNO requirements;
Secure element (SE) vendors have the most extensive and proven experience in providing secure operating systems for SIM / eSIM, secure subscription and data management services, remote provisioning capabilities and a comprehensive understanding of MNO requirements, built over many decades and founded on a trusted relationship.
These core competencies can be transferred and tailored to various IoT and M2M use cases, such as wearables, leaving the SE industry best placed to deliver the strongest available device security, and reduced complexity for both consumers and manufacturers.