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A Guide to IoT Connectivity, IoT SIM Cards & Multi-Network Systems

A guide to IoT Connectivity, IoT SIM Cards & Multi-network Platforms
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What is IoT?

IoT is an acronym widely used for describing the Internet of Things. Typically, IoT is used on a vast range of devices viewed as inanimate objects designed to serve a particular function or use. IoT devices, by their nature, tend to be geographically dispersed and installed at scale. Therefore, to perform effectively, they require some level of device intelligence, resilience, secure and legitimate connectivity, and the capability to be remotely managed.

Currently, there are over 35 billion IoT devices worldwide, which is, with that number is estimated to reach more than 75 billion by 2025. The use of IoT is spread across many sectors but is most prominent in:

What is IoT Connectivity?

IoT devices can offer a range of valuable public and commercial services for businesses and users, helping reduce costs and increase efficiency. However, these ‘smart’ devices require secure and resilient connectivity to operate beneficially and profitably.

IoT Connectivity can take a range of forms, but due to the benefits of portability, flexibility, and universality, IoT devices predominately use wireless systems. This most typically involves the use of the mobile GSM infrastructure.

What is an IoT SIM Card?

An IoT SIM Card, also known as an M2M SIM card, is a SIM card designed to be installed in a range of IoT Devices. These cards provide both secure data storage and secure access to cellular networks, allowing IoT devices to connect to the internet without needing a Wi-Fi or other wireless network.

The SIM Card supplies the secure authentication for the IoT device to connect correctly to mobile networks, ensuring the signalling and traffic is routed securely and reliably via the correct system checkpoints and network nodes. 

These SIM identifiers are also used for extra network features such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and for setting and blocking certain features. SIM provisioning codes ensure billing is correctly apportioned to each radio and routing network, the originating user devices and the various service providers.

Typical use cases for IoT SIM cards include:

How do IoT SIM Cards Differ from Ordinary Consumer SIMs?

IoT SIM cards are designed specifically for use in Internet of Things devices, often needing less power and having a wide network range despite having a lower data rate and more security options. This helps ensure the IoT device has a reliable connection to the internet at all times, allowing it to deliver accurate data when needed. In addition, many IoT SIM cards come with special features such as Multi-Network roaming, allowing IoT devices to search for the best connection available and switch between networks on the fly.

IoT SIM Cards are securely coded at their manufacture and then provisioned by the IoT Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) for an assorted range of approved IoT applications. Through commercial agreements between mobile network operators (MNOs), IoT Virtual Mobile Network Operators and infrastructure providers, IoT SIM cards can maintain a reliable and extensive connection to networks.

Read more: How to choose the right SIM card for IoT purposes? (9 reasons)

There’s not a one-size fits all solution when it comes to IoT SIM cards. They are manufactured in a range of form factors and chipsets to suit a variety of IoT devices. This can include various sizes and embedded chips designed for more miniature or environmentally challenging environments such as high levels of motion or vibration.

For their continued long-term connection, it is therefore crucial that they are identified as authorised IoT devices and remain protected by legitimate commercial IoT device agreements with those host mobile network operators who are vital for providing the radio and base station switching networks.

Most MNOs welcome authorised IoT agreements with credible and trustworthy IoT MVNOs as they provide reciprocal forms of revenue streams without the headache of excessive or unconstrained signalling which can significantly degrade general network performance.

Remote management is essential with any IoT devices, as they typically cannot be managed locally by their users/owners or retail outlets. Because of this, IoT SIMs require configuration changes to be made remotely and securely, and their costs to be continuously monitored and controlled independently of the Mobile Network Operator’s systems.

Caburne Telecom IoT SIM

Why Use Multi-Network Connectivity for IoT Devices?

Most IoT devices use multi-network systems. A multi-network system is a type of IoT solution that leverages multiple different networks to provide the best connection for an IoT device.

This can include both cellular and satellite networks, allowing an IoT device to remain connected even if one of the networks fails. This ensures the device has a reliable connection and reduces the risk of data being lost. Multi-network connectivity allows IoT SIMs to connect to any radio network within a particular country.

Motivations for using multi-network connectivity include:

Multi-network systems provide substantial benefits for IoT service providers, given that they are carefully managed. Consumer mobile phones typically remain connected to one network due to the competitive nature of that use case.

By employing commercial IoT roaming agreements and investing in interfacing systems and technologies, however, IoT  MVNOs can deliver multi-network capability for IoT devices. Allowing them to connect to the most favourable network based upon their local, physical, geographical, or temporal circumstances.

Using the existing GSM mobile network infrastructure in this way, therefore underpins most public and commercial IoT services. Providing the ubiquitous access needed and the ability to legitimately authenticate devices on the various mobile networks and their visitor location registers.

A managed IoT SIM with robust connectivity plans will, therefore, enable its associated IoT device to connect to multiple networks, supplying resilience, flexibility, and service performance. As IoT devices are released and move or travel, the ability to connect to the widest variety of mobile networks in a region or across borders, ensures services are not interrupted, while avoiding unexpected out-of-zone penalties. In mobile environments, such multi-network capability helps increase overall capacity and improves data rates. 

It is also key that IoT SIM cards are supported by a SIM Management Platform together with a flexible approach and the ability to change tariffs and suspend SIMs. IoT devices cycle through various lifecycles which to be cost-effective require that the connectivity and associated costs be switched off during these ’downtimes’.

What Roles do IoT MVNOs and IoT SIM Providers Play in the Sector?

Selecting the right connectivity and SIM partner is critical, not only in helping choose, configure, and optimise device’s connectivity with the necessary long-term commercial agreements, but also to provide real time advice and support should any of the MNO’s networks or devices suffer issues. 

Indeed, some compatibility issues may require more involved investigations. This is where a partner with high levels of telecom network expertise and resourced support structures is invaluable. Close relationships with our customers and partners also ensure that providers such as Caburn Telecom constantly monitors and tests networks; often advising MNO problems to our clients in advance of the networks detecting problems themselves. 

Caburn Telecom’s large client network also helps us to continuously monitor service levels and user experiences. This is achieved by advising in good time of network features, upgrades, or sunsets. Safeguarding technologies which match the desired evolution and lifespan of devices is important, as the costs of a retrofit of dispersed devices is viewed as a failure of foresight. 

A high-quality connectivity partner also ensures communication plans and agreements match use cases. MNOs dislike their networks being infiltrated by undisclosed M2M / IoT device signalling and closely monitor these situations.

Spotting SIM profiles not in line with their connectivity plans and pre-agreed commercial arrangements means they may unilaterally apply extra surcharges for those groups of devices, or permanently block those ranges of SIMs. 

A high-quality provider, therefore, also invests in optimising and upgrading their networks and works closely with MNOs to create strong, mutually beneficial relationships.

Recommended reading: How IoT SIM Card Connectivity Can Benefit Your Logistics Company

IoT connectivity

IoT SIM Card Single Network Coverage Claims

Each individual network’s extent of mobile radio coverage is contentious. Coverage maps are usually provided by MNOs themselves or via crowdsourcing mechanisms. Coverage can be patchy, however, and newer technologies are usually deployed based upon likely returns on investment or economic factors. This means that rural or poorer areas are usually less well served, as service voids remain and local availability of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G operational infrastructures vary.

Indeed, coverage maps tend not to objectively reflect the operational experience of users. This is particularly important for national deployments which may require service ubiquity and high coverage. Indeed, cities are not exempt. Buildings and indoor locations can attenuate networks which means an alternative mobile network is needed. High general usage can also reduce the performance of an individual network, which means alternatives need to be available.

Crowdsourcing data conflates indoor and outdoor measurements and does not reflect device characteristics, handling or limitations. Confusing the significant effects that buildings and structures have on reducing signal strength. Similarly, the impact of attenuation, poor weather, radio shadows, operational voids, weak signals and temporal variations tend not to be considered.

Device connectivity also depends upon a dynamic range of local and core-network system interactions, which affect performance and service levels. For these reasons, and due to the nature and complexity of mobile networks, it is recommended that actual user experiences (client-assisted-data) form part of the measurements. These are continuously checked to factor in environmental, temporal, and contextual changes.

These practical problems mean experienced IoT service providers typically extend geographical and temporal service levels via a multi-network approach. In the consumer and business markets, the main mobile network operators are competing, making neutral cross-relationships unworkable. Multi-network providers such as Caburn Telecom, however, work to deliver a structure that allows devices to select and communicate with the best network available. This is achieved by producing a SIM that is accepted by each of the MNOs via long-term agreements.

A high-quality multi-network provider ensures these roaming agreements reflect the type of devices and their expected connectivity profiles. For example, while early M2M devices and their traffic tended to involve small data packets, increasingly devices require human interaction or supply some level of service experience for the user. Beit voice quality, latency, speed of service, privacy, or security. Increasingly, much broader use applications recognise the benefits of multi-network connectivity and look to integrate them into wider service offerings.

Mission critical services for vehicle telematics, insurance, lone-workers, tele-health, telecare, assisted-living, epos terminals, hot-spots, routers, personal security devices, CCTV, bodycams, asset security and management systems all rely on multi-network connectivity. In these sorts of user and device interactions, it is important to consider not only quality of service, but also quality of experience as well as providing real-time monitoring and warning systems.

IoT SIM Cards

Mobile Systems and Device Interrelationships

Mobile systems are convoluted and when combined form complex ecosystems. Ubiquitous access depends not only upon the specialised SIM variant, but also the devices compatibility with; the various radio frequencies and the variety of network evolutions supported by each network. For example, approved modems, the access technologies available and each network provider(s) regional and national implementation and disposal of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G infrastructure.

Multi-network characteristics of devices are also affected by the capabilities of the IoT device itself. Vast arrays of devices have different levels of network intelligence or selection logic. Some are battery powered and others connected to the mains supply.

Remaining connected to the network, or the need to close connections in sleep and hibernation modes to conserve battery life will therefore vary by circumstance. Some will have simple network selection algorithms based upon signal strength, while others will have more astute selection procedures. For example, the firmware can be designed to select networks manually or automatically. More intelligent devices can use network evaluation steps/algorithms for selecting the best network to connect with.

While the most primitive devices will select based upon strongest signal only, irrespective of bandwidth or services available, others can select based upon the availability of the required services, unique communication requirements, or will ping certain data services to first measure end-to-end data connectivity. For instance, selecting network based simply on signal strength may mean that a 2G or 3G network is selected, when a slightly lower strength 4G one is available.

This may not matter for those applications requiring a simple voice connection, but for those needing data only, it can severely affect service or performance. This device capability is also important as devices may need to intelligently select or switch networks in certain circumstances. i.e.; i) if the local strongest measured signal by the device is 2G, but data connectivity is required; ii) One of the MNOs suffers core network issues, which to the device appears that a network is available when end to end connectivity on that network is not possible; and iii) other contextual or temporal factors meaning the loss of a radio connection or time-outs, which the device will need to have processes in place to manage.

Network selection criteria becomes especially important when there is congestion on one of the networks, or an outage. This is crucial as a catastrophic failure on an individual MNO core-network could result in hours of down-time on that network, while investigation, rectification and recovery works are implemented. This can sometimes involve load balancing and management of traffic congestion through points of failure or constriction.

The ability to select another network in this scenario is invaluable. Eliminating such periods, where none of the population of IoT devices can communicate for an extended period.

About Caburn Telecom

Caburn Telecom are a leading global provider of connectivity for Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.

Our focus is the development of advanced mobile connectivity solutions and associated management systems. Our SIMs, chip-SIMs and eSIMs, provide the flexibility and high service levels vital for distributed IoT devices to operate effectively. We provide multi-network capability together with the streamlined management of SIM populations.

Caburn Telecom’s secure client portals deliver easy-to-use interfaces for understanding and administering the connectivity of devices. Traffic details and actual (and predicted) costs can be viewed at the group(s) and the individual level.

Our innovative and flexible connectivity packages allow IoT service providers to maximise their assets and manage the operational life cycles of devices.