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IoT SIM vs Normal SIM (8 Differences)

IoT SIM Cards Caburn Telecom
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Key takeaways:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) SIMs are purpose-built for dispersed stand-alone devices that need to connect to the internet, whereas normal, consumer SIMs are for phones and other consumer mobile devices.
  • IoT SIM Cards are provisioned by the provider with long-term commercial agreements that enable them to connect to specified mobile networks as IoT devices.
  • Many IoT devices produce high signalling and low data rates, which if uncontrolled or illegitimate, can be highly problematic to local network operators. 
  • Many IoT devices consume less power and need to have a wide network range which means battery management is a key factor in operation and communications.
  • As some IoT SIM cards are used in extreme environments, some are built to withstand extreme weather and temperatures, corrosion, vibration and impact or embedded on bespoke printed circuit boards.

If you’re wondering whether an IoT SIM or a normal SIM is right for your device, it’s important to understand the key differences between them to ensure your devices remain connected and live and are not disconnected from the networks.

Internet of Things (IoT) SIM cards are purpose-built for devices that need to connect to the internet or wireless cellular networks, whereas normal consumer SIMs are for smartphones and tablets. 

In this article, we’ll look at how SIM cards work and the eight key differences between IoT SIM cards and regular SIM cards.

Keep reading to find out more!

How do SIM cards work?

Traditional SIM cards are small, removable cards that store data for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cellular phones. This data includes your phone number, contact list, text messages, and other information.

A main difference between an IoT SIM and a regular SIM card is that IoT SIMs are specifically designed to work without a person needing to activate or interact with the device by virtue of the central systems that manage them.

Also referred to as M2M SIM cards, IoT SIM cards are also available in cost-effective price packages for those applications that require very low data uses. This makes them ideal for devices that only need a basic connection to the internet, such as weather sensors or security cameras. They can also be configured to connect to low-power, long-range technologies such as LTE-M and NB-IoT.

Learn more: A Guide to IoT Connectivity, IoT SIM Cards & Multi-network Systems

Get connected with Caburn Telecom and IoT

Key Differences Between the Legitimate Use of IoT SIM Card Cellular Connectivity & Regular SIM cards in Devices:

There are eight key differences that separate IoT SIM cards from regular SIM cards. These include:

1) Mobile network commercial agreements and rightful use-case access in IoT projects

2) Device data usage, storage and speeds

3) Device power consumption and mobile connectivity techniques used in IoT devices compared to consumer smartphones

4) Network and connectivity range of IoT SIMs compared to the coverage of regular smartphone SIMs (i.e. coverage of consumer SIMs)

5) Security and access of cellular IoT SIM cards in IoT solutions compared to the security of consumer SIMs and the need for IoT private APN network(s)

6) Scalability and remote SIM management capabilities of IoT SIMs and IoT connectivity providers

7) IoT SIM models, SIM form factors and specialised industrial SIMs for IoT applications compared to those needed for traditional telecom smartphone connectivity

8) Increased reliability and durability needed in critical IoT cases compared to the reliability of consumer SIMs

9) Greater transparency and control of service, costs and contracts for large scale IoT deployments

Let’s look at it in more detail.

1) Mobile network commercial agreements and rightful use-case access

IoT SIMs are typically provisioned by the provider with long-term commercial agreements that enable them to connect to specified mobile networks as IoT devices. This differs from consumer SIMs, which are governed by native single-network consumer-based agreements that also allow international roaming based upon short tourism-type trips and consumer price plans. 

IoT devices that roam internationally under consumer SIM price plans and not IoT device agreements, due to their scale, high (unbilled) signalling and low voice and data (billed revenue), can be identified, grouped and switched off by the local operator. IoT SIM cards are, on the other hand, protected by agreed contracts with the local operators. 

Consumer SIMs also require a person (retailer or user) to manually activate and manage their device with the network operator, whereas IoT SIMs need to be managed centrally at scale on the basis that the device will likely be installed at scale in moving, unmanned devices or located in remote or hard to reach locations.

2) Device Data usage, storage and speeds

IoT SIM card plans allow for low data usage and long-term network agreements, meaning they are suitable for IoT devices that only have to send or receive a message over the internet occasionally, but also need to be deployed for a number of years as a capital investment. This is especially important when the device has to remain active in the long term in order to function properly and to meet the service commitments of the use case.

Consumer SIM cards, on the other hand, typically require higher levels of data usage than most IoT SIM cards. This is why they are usually used in smartphones and tablets that require online streaming services such as YouTube or Spotify and are used continuously by their consumer users in a single-network environment. 

Put simply, users will accept that their single-network smartphone has coverage limits, whereas an IoT device needs to be deployed with an expected SLA that matches the performance expectations of the device. 

3) Device Power consumption

IoT SIM cards are designed to be reliably connected to the internet and to be used by their host IoT device in a way that is as energy-efficient as possible. This is essential for IoT devices that have limited battery life, such as security trackers, wearables and connected home appliances. Device connectivity and SIM cards need to work in unison to ensure that device and network resources are managed effectively.

An M2M SIM card can use cloud connectivity to offload software development kits and encryption to augment the inherent physical security that the SIM card provides. 

An IoT SIM Card provider with software platforms, VPN solutions and routing options can therefore provide added services that ensure the security, long-life and power efficiency of the IoT devices that are remotely deployed.

4) Network and connectivity range

The network coverage of an IoT SIM card will depend on the mobile network it is connected to and the technology used. Through commercial IoT agreements, IoT SIMs are designed for local and global operations, allowing the user access to multiple local and international networks, prioritising access to the best connection available. This flexibility and ease of management help to make IoT devices more affordable and easier to deploy on a large scale.

Although both IoT SIMs and regular SIM cards use the GSM network (like 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G), some IoT SIMs can connect to low-power LTE-M or NB-IoT networks which offer a longer range than traditional 4G/LTE networks. This makes them ideal for rural areas or indoor or buried locations with especially poor reception.

Consumer SIM cards are only able to connect to a single-network provider in their host nation/region, so suffer from poorer coverage and are at risk from local and national outages from that single-network provider.

5) Security and access

IoT SIMs can offer better security than regular SIM cards, as they’re specifically used with devices and core networks that facilitate routing and systems that can protect sensitive data due to their higher levels of authentication and access control. This is especially important for IoT devices that contain sensitive data or are connected to critical infrastructure.

Through a private static IP address working in combination with a VPN, IoT SIM cards can be configured to encrypt data transmissions, making it much harder for hackers to intercept and misuse data. The data is transported using a single IPSec or VPN to ensure that every device has encryption.

IoT SIM cards can also be remotely managed, meaning that if a device is lost or stolen, the SIM card can be disabled to prevent it from being used. Remote management also gives service personnel the ability to update, change or troubleshoot configurations on the device.

For a regular SIM to access remote management, a VPN client, dynamic DNS service and private APNs are required.

6) Scalability

For any company undergoing an IoT deployment, choosing the right SIM card provider is vital to their strategy. Ensuring they select the right network architecture that guarantees their expected service levels.

Because IoT SIMs are used to transform their devices and sensors into IoT-enabled devices, IoT SIM providers must have the scalability and flexibility to meet the demands of their customers moving forward.

That’s why data plans for IoT SIM cards can be adapted using central systems to alter the current usage of the device, making them ideal for applications with changing levels of data usage over time, or if expectations change.

7) SIM form factors

Both IoT SIM cards and regular SIM cards use mini, micro and nano SIM card factors, however, some industries and devices need specific IoT SIM form factors to meet their requirements.

Many IoT devices that need to be removed or replaced frequently, such as routers or retail applications, often use removable plastic SIMs. These SIMs are the same size as regular SIM cards and so can be easily swapped out as needed and provide greater flexibility.

Furthermore, IoT SIM cards have an ICCID number (Integrated Circuit Card Identifier) that helps users identify that the SIM is for IoT use.

IoT devices that need to be rugged or resistant to harsh environments often use the MFF2 form factor. MFF2-embedded SIMs are an increasingly popular option for IoT devices. They’re 40% smaller than a micro SIM but are highly durable and can be soldered onto a device’s circuit board, making them more difficult to remove. These SIMs are used for a variety of IoT devices, including wearables, trackers and industrial sensors that need the smallest form factors.

Other IoT devices that need to be rugged or resistant to harsh environments and desire the future-proofing ability to change the SIM card provider in the future often use an eUICC (embedded universal integrated circuit card). These SIMs are more expensive than other form factors but can provide the comfort of switching providers being supportable via the GSMA eUICC standards and frameworks.

It should be noted, however, that there are different GSMA standards for consumer eSIM and iSIM applications and IoT applications. This is due to the isolation of IoT devices in comparison to smartphones which can be configured by the retailer or owner/user.

8) Increased durability in some cases 

As IoT devices are often used in harsh or difficult environments, they need to be durable enough to withstand the rigours of everyday use.

That’s why IoT SIM cards are sometimes designed to be more durable than regular SIM cards, with many featuring a metal casing that protects against physical damage or locking or soldering the device in place. These SIM cards are able to withstand extreme weather and temperatures, corrosion, vibration and impact. One typical example is their use within vehicle devices.

9) Greater transparency and control of service

As IoT devices transmit sensitive data, it’s important that businesses have complete transparency and control over their usage.

IoT SIM cards offer businesses the ability to see exactly how much data each device is using, as well as when and where the data is being used. 

This level of visibility is essential for businesses that need to closely monitor their data usage while ensuring that the service is working as expected.

Do you have the right SIM card for your IoT needs?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the right SIM card for your IoT needs will depend on a number of factors, including the type of device you’re using, the environment it will be used in and your data usage requirements.

To learn more about choosing the right SIM for IoT, read our latest blog post: How to choose the right SIM card for IoT purposes? (9 reasons).

Caburn Telecom is a leading global provider of IoT SIM cards and services as well as being IoT experts. We offer a range of different IoT SIMs and advanced mobile connectivity solutions, each designed to meet the specific needs of your devices and applications.

To find out more about our industry-leading services, please get in touch with our team today.