Single Global IoT SIM vs. SIMs from Multiple Carriers: Which Is Right for You?

Ralph Heredia
Aug 5, 2022 11:32:31 AM

IoT devices, with their varying data consumption rates and unique network requirements (like LTE-M or NB-IoT) require specialized IoT SIM cards and optimized data plans, instead of the typical consumer SIMs you might find in smartphones. Depending on your IoT application, and where devices will be deployed, it may be necessary to familiarize yourself with wireless roaming agreements and how that can impact which IoT SIMs you procure from your connectivity provider.

In addition, you will likely need to determine if it makes more sense to utilize a global roaming IoT SIM, or multiple SIMs from different in-market carriers. In this article, we’ll dive into each option and how each can make an impact on cost, coverage, and ongoing management.

What Is a Global IoT SIM? 

A global IoT SIM is a single SIM that roams across multiple carriers around the world. It does this by leveraging the carrier’s established roaming relationships. For this reason, global IoT SIMs are also sometimes called “roaming SIMs.” Importantly, even though these SIMs are characterized as “global,” this does not necessarily mean they will provide seamless coverage (or every carrier) anywhere around the world. This is a crucial distinction to keep in mind as you explore connectivity options for your IoT devices.

Individual SIMs from Multiple Carriers

A multi-carrier, "localized" SIM approach is when you use individual SIMs from multiple in-market carriers for a given region or geography. So, for example, you may decide to use an AT&T SIM in the US, a Vodaphone SIM in Europe, and a Telefonica SIM in Latin America. This approach can also be called localization, as you are leveraging the wireless carrier networks that are local to that region or country rather than from a carrier somewhere else that comes in to roam on those local networks.  

Global IoT SIM vs. Multiple IoT SIMs

To decide between a global IoT SIM or multiple IoT SIMs from in-market carriers, it’s helpful to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. Here are some of the considerations to weigh when choosing which to use for your business.

Advantages of Global IoT SIMs

When it comes to global IoT SIMs, there are two primary benefits:

  1. Simplified management — Since you are working with one company offering coverage around the world, you only need to manage one relationship. This means dealing with one contract and incorporating a single SIM into your IoT devices at the time of manufacturing. For example, you won’t need to figure out which carrier’s SIM a device needs even if devices are being split between the US, Latin America, and Canada.
  2. Simplified billing — If you choose to use one global SIM, you have one contract with one bill. You won’t need to navigate multiple bills from different carriers (and possibly different billing terms), which simplifies administration.

Disadvantages of Global IoT SIMs

The primary disadvantages of using global SIMs include these sometimes “hidden” factors:

  1. Hidden potential costs — You could easily overpay for coverage in a given region if you don’t know the normal costs of coverage from in-market carriers ahead of time. When companies choose the “simpler” path of a global roaming SIM, they may find it comes with a higher price tag. 
  2. Possible coverage gaps in certain areas based on the carrier network or the available technologies in a given market — With a global SIM, you’ve bought into a “one size fits all” approach where you should be getting broad coverage. However, you may still find coverage gaps in certain areas, depending on who is selling you that global SIM. In this case, you’re trusting that your connectivity provider has agreements in place with their carrier suppliers to let your device roam on as many carrier partner networks as possible in all regions where you need coverage, but that may not always be the case if your provider doesn’t have direct, authorized resale relationships. 

Even some global SIMs out there have limitations around the type of network, for instance, some roaming SIMs do not support technologies like NB-IoT or LTE-M. However, thanks to our extensive experience in delivering IoT connectivity to OEMs around the world, Zipit is able to offer several global roaming SIM options to our customers to help overcome these coverage hurdles.

If your IoT application is to be deployed in multiple countries, and under a single product SKU, then maybe a global IoT SIM makes sense. A good example of this would be a fleet tracking device that will regularly cross the borders between the US, Canada, and Latin America.  A “global” plan would likely make sense here – assuming normal device check-in patterns for a fleet tracking type of IoT application.

Keep in mind that there may be carrier limitations as to (1) the amount of time a device is roaming in a given territory, or (2) The amount of data that a device can consume while in that territory, or both.

Do you need help figuring out what roaming options might be appropriate for your IoT application? We’ve got you covered.

Advantages of Using Individual SIMs from Multiple Carriers

When it comes to using SIMs from multiple, in-market carriers, there are some advantages and disadvantages as well. 

On the plus side, using multiple carrier SIMs can give you:

  • Better actual coverage for your chosen region — When you leverage an in-market (also known as on-net) carrier for the countries or regions you’re deploying your devices (instead of trying to source connectivity from a carrier with no local presence), you are able to benefit from their network buildout, as well as the roaming agreements they have put in place, translating to better coverage for you. Zipit’s customers benefit in this way, because we have built direct relationships with the leading carriers in the most popular markets around the world for IoT devices. You can read more about global IoT connectivity here to learn more about the nuances around this.
  • Potentially more cost-effective, depending on your IoT application — If your devices only need coverage in very specific markets, then using the in-market carrier for each region may be the cheaper option.

Disadvantages of Using Individual SIMs from Multiple Carriers

Of course, there are some disadvantages of using SIMs from multiple carriers:

  • Increased administration — With multiple carriers, there will be separate contracts to manage, different billing dates from those carriers, separate or unique data plans per carrier and multiple SIMs to oversee and support.
  • Disparate siloed platforms — The reality is, once you’ve integrated with and operationalized one carrier, you’ve figured it out for just that one carrier. For every new carrier you want to support, you have to start the process over. This takes a lot of dedicated time and investment, and in many cases, companies find it is much easier to go down the path of using multiple SIMs with a unified platform provided by Zipit.

Example of IoT Application that Could Benefit from Leveraging Multiple SIMs:

A multiple-SIM industrial router solution, that can take advantage of several networks for redundancy. This can be especially helpful for mission-critical IoT applications like healthcare or emergency services, where a vehicle can travel between coverage zones on a regular — even daily, basis.

Although using multiple SIMs can bring complexity to your IoT solution, Zipit helps mitigate many of the challenges through our connectivity management platform:

  1. We’ve already integrated with SIM platforms from the carriers.
  2. You have one agreement with Zipit, not multiple other entities
  3. You get a single, detailed monthly invoice that shows which devices are on what data plans – so you don’t have to keep up with multiple billing dates
  4. We give you a seamless way to activate, deactivate and manage devices regardless of the carrier
  5. By leveraging our subscription billing capabilities too, you also enable your customers to manage their own devices and subscription plans

Global SIM or IoT SIMs from Multiple Carriers — Which Path Is Right for You?

Now that you better understand the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of global IoT SIMs vs. IoT SIMs from multiple carriers, you can use this knowledge to decide which will work best for your business. 

Whether you want to go down the path of a global roaming SIM or leverage SIMs from multiple carriers, Zipit can help, thanks to our extensive relationships and powerful platform that can help you fully operationalize your connectivity.

Want to know more about Zipit’s platform for managing SIMs and subscription billing?? Contact us to schedule a demo.

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