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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 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, with that number estimated to reach more than 75 billion by 2025.

The use of IoT technology is spread across many sectors but recent studies show IoT is most prominent in:

  • Automotive industry
  • Consumer and retail applications
  • Healthcare
  • Industry and manufacturing
  • Finance
  • Smart cities

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.

In recent years, IoT technology has allowed the infrastructure of counties around the world to become more connected and efficient. This has been especially beneficial in the development of smart cities within the Middle East, Japan, and Africa – to name a few.

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 types of IoT SIM card solutions 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 IoT SIM card supplies the secure authentication for the IoT device to connect correctly to mobile networks, ensuring the signalling and traffic are routed securely and reliably via the correct system checkpoints and network nodes.

These SIM card identifiers are also used for extra network features such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and for setting and blocking certain features. IoT SIM card 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 SIMs include:

  • Security, alarms & CCTV
  • Lone worker protection systems
  • Smart ticket and vending machines
  • Electric vehicle charging
  • In-vehicle dashboard cameras
  • Smart sensors

How do IoT SIM Cards Differ from Ordinary Consumer SIMs?

IoT SIMs 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 always has a reliable connection to the internet, allowing it to deliver accurate data when needed. In addition, many IoT SIM cards come with specific 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 SIMs can maintain a reliable and extensive connection to networks.

IoT SIM Card Form Factors and Industrial Variants

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to IoT SIM cards.

IoT SIMs 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 elevated levels of motion or vibration.

Caburne Telecom IoT SIM

The Role of eUICC and eSIM Technologies

Many IoT applications are benefitting from the use of embedded SIM cards (eSIM) which are soldered directly onto printed circuit boards, or eUICC SIM cards which are a software implementation of IMSI profile(s) onto a variety of physical IoT SIM card form factors, including industrial, embedded, and traditional plastic SIMs. This eSIM and eUICC SIM card technology when used together, means that manufacturers can benefit from the cost and space savings that eSIM provides, while also having the flexibility of eUICC, where the connectivity provider(s) can be changed later downstream. This means that a single IoT sim can be used as a single SKU globally, which can have obvious advantages.

The importance of Authorised IoT Connectivity Agreements

For both traditional IoT SIM cards and eUICC SIM Cards continued long-term connection, it is 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.

Some countries, however, bar permanent roaming and this is where eUICC SIM cards are particularly helpful for enabling a local MNO profile to be downloaded when the device appears in that country.

The Importance of Remote Management of IoT SIM Cards & their Connectivity

Remote management is essential with any IoT devices, as they typically cannot be managed locally by their users/owners or retail outlets. IoT SIMs need to be provisioned correctly, with the correct communications plans and then adjusted as the client’s needs change.

Because of this, IoT SIM cards 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.

IoT connectivity

Why Do IoT SIMs Use Multi-Network Connectivity for IoT Devices?

Most IoT devices use multi-network systems . A multi-network system is a type of IoT SIM Card 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:

  • Enlarge geographical coverage
  • Increase service uptime
  • Ensure resilient and cost-effective cross-border roaming
  • Avoid local, regional, national or international service outages on a single network
  • Manage medium to large-scale SIM deployments and assets
  • Enable management of connectivity beyond the mobile-user-centred retail services that major individual networks provide

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 and IoT SIM cards.

The Role of IoT Roaming Agreements

Through this capability, IoT devices can connect to the most favourable network based on 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 card or IoT eSIM 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 IoT 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.

The Roles of MVNOs and SIM Providers in the IoT Sector

Selecting the right connectivity and IoT SIM card partner is critical, not only in helping choose, configure, and optimise the device’s connectivity with the necessary long-term commercial agreements but also in providing real-time advice and support should any of the MNO’s networks or devices suffer issues. This is essential for ensuring IoT data plans are reliable and cost effective going forward.

In some cases, there may be some compatibility issues that may require investigation. 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 monitor and test networks; often advising MNO problems to our clients in advance of the networks detecting problems themselves.

Connecting lines to form connectivity

The Importance of a High-Quality Connectivity Partner

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 are 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

Single Network Coverage Claims for IoT SIM Cards

The extent of individual network’s mobile radio coverage remains a contentious issue . While coverage maps are often provided by Mobile Network Operators or through crowdsourcing, they do not always reflect the reality of operational experience, especially in rural or economically disadvantaged areas.

Such areas are often less adequately served , due to the focus of new technology deployments on areas promising higher returns on investment. Urban locations, despite appearing to be well-covered, suffer issues such as network attenuation due to high-rise buildings and heavy usage, leading to a need for alternative networks.

IoT SIM Cards

Interpreting Mobile Network Coverage

Crowdsourced data, while useful, often fails to reflect the inherent limitations of devices and the influence of external factors such as buildings, poor weather conditions, and signal strength.

Considering the dynamic nature of local and core-network interactions affecting device connectivity, it becomes apparent that a multi-network approach is essential for assuring consistent service levels. Experienced IoT service providers typically adopt this approach, offering improved geographical and temporal service levels.

Multi-network providers, such as Caburn Telecom, have evolved to address this issue. We establish structures enabling devices to select and communicate with the most effective network available, through the creation of IoT SIMs that are accepted by all MNOs.

Crucially, these providers ensure that roaming agreements align with device types and expected connectivity profiles, catering for a diverse range of applications and services. From vehicle telematics and telehealth to CCTV and asset security, all these services rely on the robustness of multi-network connectivity.

Quality of service, as well as quality of experience and real-time monitoring, should be factored into user and device interactions. This ensures not only the best connectivity but also the delivery of high-standard services that meet the demands of today’s interconnected world.

Mobile Systems and Device Interrelationships with IoT SIM Cards

The architecture of mobile systems is intricate, forming an elaborate ecosystem when combined. The complexity of mobile ecosystems is driven not just by specialised SIM variants, but also by device compatibility with network evolutions and radio frequencies.

Consider the interplay of sanctioned modems, the range of access technologies available, and network providers’ regional and national rollouts (or decommissioning) of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G infrastructures.

The multi-network potential of devices is influenced by the IoT device’s capabilities. Devices vary in network intelligence, from simple battery-powered units to mains-powered appliances with advanced selection algorithms.

Device connectivity can range from always-on connections to intermittent ones, conserving battery life in sleep or hibernation modes. Some devices select networks based on signal strength, while smarter units can select networks based on required services, unique communication requirements, or perform an end-to-end data connectivity test.

Take, for example, a device that selects a network purely on signal strength. In this case, it might connect to a stronger 2G or 3G network, ignoring an available, albeit weaker, 4G network. This does not affect voice-centric applications, but it could compromise the performance of data-only services.

The ability of devices to intelligently select or switch networks is crucial in certain scenarios — for example, if the local strongest signal is 2G, but data connectivity is needed, or if one of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) experiences core network issues, creating a false appearance of network availability when end-to-end connectivity is not possible.

Understanding a device’s capability to intelligently select or switch networks is crucial, especially when dealing with network congestion, downtime, or signal loss.

In the event of a core network failure, devices must be capable of selecting an alternative network to avoid prolonged periods of non-communication. This is where the intelligence in network selection plays a pivotal role in maintaining seamless IoT device operation.

Why Choose a Caburn Telecom IoT SIM Card?

Caburn Telecom is a leading global provider of connectivity for Internet-of-Things 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.