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Smart devices could soon have their own cellular connections

Arm's Kigen software will allow for SIM cards in IoT devices, meaning they could get online without Wi-Fi, and eventually, maybe, through 5G.


IoT devices could connect online with SIM cards soon. 

James Martin/CNET

Connected devices such as smart lightbulbs, refrigerators and TVs are all bound by Wi-Fi networks. But that might not be the case for much longer. 

Arm, a processor design company, is unveiling a new software stack, called Kigen, that would allow SIM cards to be integrated into internet-of-things devices. That is, your smart objects could connect to the internet more like a phone, rather than being dependent on Wi-Fi. And that could be big business: The company is looking ahead to a trillion connected devices by 2035, though the cellular IoT market would be only a portion of that. 

Using cellular signals and SIM cards means smart devices will be able to connect to the internet immediately. It'll also mean they can be used in areas where Wi-Fi might be inconvenient, said Chet Babla, Arm's vice president of solutions. 

IoT sensors on delivery trucks would let you know exactly where your packages are, for instance. Or they could be used on farms to control irrigation systems.  

Arm's new tech will also provide a global standard for connection, as opposed to individual Wi-Fi networks set up locally. SIM cards also give each of your smart devices an individual identity, the same way they do for your phones.

"Using cellular signals for IoT is a natural next step," Babla said. 

He said that ARM is working closely with carriers, which would have to determine on their own what kind of fees, if any, to charge for the IoT connections.

Adding a SIM card would also provide an extra level of security, Babla said, since Wi-Fi snoops won't be able to peek over an insecure connection. But it'll have a hard time dealing with other major security issues that IoT devices face, such as default passwords that can't be changed and gadgets that never get important security updates. 

That'll be up to the manufacturers to fix, Babla said. Arm is relying on the SIM card's security, authentication and encryption to solve for everything else, he noted. 

"We talk about these billions of devices for IoT, but really, that potential will never be realized if these devices are not secure," Babla said.

Correction, 7:56 a.m. PT: This article initially misstated aspects of Kigen's construction, distribution and associated costs. Those details have been corrected.

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