Last year, we answered your top 10 questions about M2M SIM cards—but in an ever-changing world of technology, IoT has proved itself to be one of the most fluid in terms of technological advancement, meaning there’s now a lot more ground to cover. So without further ado, let us present 2017’s top 10 questions, answered by our expert in operations, Chris Romeika:
1. Why do I see some SIM card tariffs with really low data allowances. 10MB seems very small—why not just use a high street SIM card with 5GB of data?
M2M SIM cards are designed for a particular application and have a certain “tariff” associated with them, which reflects the specific price. If your application only needs 10MB of data per month—many sensors will often only need a small amount of data—you can tailor the tariff to that exact amount. If you know an application is not programmed to generate any more data than 10MB you’ll be able to achieve optimal value and ensure you are not paying for data you don’t need.
2. Is there anything different about the network?
M2M traffic generally uses what is called a “private APN”, which is configured on the device. The APN is a configuration context in the mobile network which gives prioritised resources to the M2M traffic. This generally means that the bandwidth is not shared with consumer bandwidth, so there is no risk of congestion in peak periods, and service levels for that APN are higher than a standard consumer type SIM card.
3. What types of SIM card are there?
Standard types of SIMs include nano, micro and standard (also called “mini”). We also provide specific types, such as heavy duty SIM cards, which are more robust, and solderable SIM cards which can be soldered directly onto a circuit board for use in high stress environments. “Pop out” SIM cards, combine all three popular sizes. All these SIM cards types can be used for data, voice, SMS or CSD (“Circuit Switched Data”—rare in new applications). The eSIM is also a new standard, announced at the Mobile World Congress in 2016 which is a SIM based in software. This means in the future (once mobile networks opt in), a device will be able to dynamically switch between mobile networks to take advantage of the best tariff, or best signal.
You can read more about eSIMs here.
4. Can I have static IP’s?
Yes, it is possible to have a static IP service with a private APN configuration, where the IP addresses can be assigned by the mobile network or by your systems. If you want to assign IP addresses yourself you would need a “RADIUS” server, which authenticates connection requests from SIM cards. By doing this, you can assign an individual username and password to each SIM or group of SIMs, and assign IP addresses accordingly. For some networks, you can also assign IP subnets to the SIM cards, thereby emulating a true Ethernet or fibre LAN and WAN type service.
5. What are “managed” SIM cards, APIs and CDRs?
SIM cards are referred to as “managed” because a portal is also provided where you can activate, deactivate, and check usage in real time. With normal consumer SIM cards it is not possible to do real time management—you would need to call the mobile provider and then wait a certain amount of time before the action took place. Managed SIM card portals like ours often offer options for API interface integration, and CDR’s (Call Detail Records) for the distribution of billing and usage data.
6. Is 4G data available on M2M SIM cards?
LTE (the technical term for 4G) is available on M2M SIM cards, but you need to check the carrier to confirm (we support LTE data on all its SIM cards). In the past not much attention was paid to LTE support, as the domain of M2M applications was strictly low bandwidth. However as a form “feature creep”, these days M2M and IoT applications may have real time sensors, or voice/video interfaces which demand greater bandwidth and low latency, so LTE has its place.
7. How do cellular services compare to alternatives such as Sigfox, LoRA and NB-IoT?
Sigfox and LoRA are competing wireless networks offering an alternative to cellular M2M communication. Sigfox is a proprietary network, while LoRA is an open standard. At the time of writing, NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) is being tested in multiple countries and is close to commercial availability. We’re keeping a close eye on the evolution of NB-IoT in the EU and especially the UK and will be ready to adopt the product into our portfolio. In all cases, it is worth considering the application, the size of the rollout, and the application’s lifespan. For example, a network of street lamps connected via LoRA would be fine if the application was never going to need more than 50kbps. But in the future if those street lamps needed to upgrade to use real time pollution sensors, or integrate CCTV systems, then a LTE based solution would be preferable.
8. How do the multiple mobile networks work on a single SIM card?
Pangea offers a single SIM card that can be considered as “always roaming”. This means the SIM card has no “home”. We are able to apply a set of rules onto that SIM card, which tell it what networks it can connect to around the world, and what services the SIM is allowed to use on those networks. For example, we can set a SIM to use voice and SMS only, or data only, or a combination of all three.
9. Isn’t data roaming expensive?
It doesn’t have to be. A consumer may think it’s expensive, especially if travelling outside Europe, but those prices are built based on consumer usage patterns and what the mobile networks think is a fair price for roaming—if they haven’t properly negotiated a price with another roaming network, they usually quote a very expensive headline rate (e.g. £6/MB)! For M2M SIM cards it’s possible to build custom roaming deals, for example roaming in the UK and Italy only. Having a specific country roaming agreement in place will drive the price down because the costs are known, as opposed to setting a higher price for a consumer where the network has to predict where the consumer will be.
10. What about EU free roaming?
Free roaming in the EU is coming in June 2017 for consumers. Essentially, this means that consumers will get charged the same local data rates as they would when roaming in the EU. However there are a number of factors that challenge this model for M2M services. The June 2017 ruling has several rules including: . the SIM needs to be moving around in a “travel” pattern, a time limit on how long the SIM can be out of the home country, and a fair usage policy imposed. In summary it’s better to pay for a proper M2M tariff rather than chance a consumer-type SIM being deactivated whilst remote and overseas.
A final aside on roaming: Sometimes you may have noticed that you go overseas with your consumer SIM card, and while you have 3G or 4G service you cannot use any of your phone applications. Or perhaps only instant messaging and email works, while everything else times out. This is because while you have fast local signal access to the cell tower, all your fellow travellers are using the same consumer mobile APN. Your “roaming” network has to send data back to the home network, and often the “pipes” between countries have limited capacity to carry bandwidth from a consumer perspective. A private APN would solve this as data is carried separately from consumer traffic, and there would be more bandwidth available for your M2M/IoT applications.
In summary, compared to 2016, there have been a few changes in priority for items within our top 10. Things such CSD are not really relevant anymore, however clarity about topics such as roaming and cellular alternatives are still important. We hope you have enjoyed reading this updated list, and look forward to publishing our 2018 list!