With its innovative technology, Raleigh-based startup Able Device enhances the capabilities of a ubiquitous but underutilized device: the Subscriber Identity Module, more commonly known as the SIM card.
It’s the tiny removable chip inside your smartphone that contains your mobile phone number, your contacts and other information used to identify you on a mobile phone network.
But the SIM is not just in your phone, it’s in every Internet of Things (IoT) device connected to a mobile network. This includes everyday items like credit and debit cards, and even your car.
CEO Roger Dewey and his team at Able Device have developed a Java Card software applet called SIMbae—short for “SIM-based application engine”— which turns the SIM into an independent processor compliant with 3GPP standards. (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, refers to the generally agreed-upon standards for mobile communications.) The SIMbae can be embedded into any SIM or eSIM, enabling seamless interactions between mobile and autonomous devices.
Originally founded in 2010, Able Device has recently experienced a surge of growth after partnering with Harley Davidson LiveWire—the electric motorcycle division of Harley Davidson—and with international connectivity and global IoT enabler BICS, based out of Brussels, Belgium.
The startup is also a 2012 graduate of Durham’s The Startup Factory (TSF) incubator co-founded by Chris Heivly and Dave Neal. (TSF shut down in 2016; we wrote about its impact here.)
While it took a while to get the ball rolling due to various reasons, Dewey said they are “starting to grow pretty rapidly and ship pretty quickly.”
With lower cost, complexity and risk, Able Device offers pre-made tools to facilitate connectivity and device management of IoT devices through the SIM, he said.
Its patented applet reaches all mobile network IoT devices, while users can easily and affordably manage and control which IoT tools or applications they want to execute. This includes device and service connectivity, app and device security, and more.
For those unfamiliar, the standard SIM is a passive processor. This means it needs an external trigger to perform a predefined function, such as inserting a credit card into a card reader at a store to pay.
In other words, the SIM needs to be told what to do. Well, until now.
“Our unique patents keep the SIM running without being told what to do,” Dewey said.
SIMbae could benefit any enterprise that is deploying IoT devices on mobile networks or technology, such as mobile network operators, service providers, and original equipment manufacturers.
Here are some use cases that can be solved with SIMbae:
- An IoT device roams onto a network that doesn’t support data roaming.
- The security issues associated with updating IoT app security credentials over public networks.
- IoT devices that have often been deployed without the necessary features to diagnose issues in the field.
Dewey, who is a seasoned executive in the Wireless Data, IoT and Machine-To-Machine (M2M) space, launched Able Device alongside other experts in embedded communications.
“I’ve spent a good part of my career trying to kind of bridge the gap between the supply side—which are the mobile network operators for connectivity—and the demand side, in this case enterprises deploying IoT technology,” Dewey said.
Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he worked at Ericsson then transitioned over to Sony Ericsson, where they embedded cellular radios and put them in cars. Dewey was involved with the first BMW-connected car program, early OnStar, and other “cutting-edge” 2G technology.
He said he saw a significant misalignment between the telecom model and the model for enterprise and vertical segments. This is in terms of business models, revenue models and supply chains.
“And that’s really what the founding of Able Device was based on, was trying to find a way to make it scalable and meet the needs of everybody—the enterprise customers, while still deploying technology that the mobile network operators were used to,” Dewey said.
He said one of the main reasons the company is growing is the SIMbae’s ability to automatically switch between private and public mobile networks on IoT devices.
For example, if FedEx drivers are coming in and out of the RDU airport, they are migrating away from Wifi. They need to use the AT&T public network for a stronger connection. Traditionally, moving from a private to a public network would require a manual switch, which often causes performance issues for M2M and IoT applications.
“Our little bit of software manages all that in the background,” Dewey said. “FedEx doesn’t have to change any devices. AT&T doesn’t have to change anything on the network. They just put a little bit of software on the SIM, and boom, it’s taken care of itself.”
He said SIMbae is highly configurable and bridges the gap from a telecom traditional ecosystem into more of an IT value chain and ecosystem model. This is unique in the industry right now.
Since its founding, Able Device has raised $1.3M and is looking to raise another $1M. Dewey said it would accelerate their growth and be a buffer against unforeseen risk.
For 2023, Dewey said they are focused on their marketing efforts and refining SIMbae by developing more tools to make it more user-friendly and flexible.
The startup is currently made up of eight employees.