Cellular IoT remains one of the most popular IoT connectivity solutions powering numerous IoT projects all over the world. The number of IoT devices powered by cellular connectivity has increased significantly over the past five years, and it’s still expected to grow.
Cellular IoT is popular not without its reasons: it’s reliable, it’s available virtually everywhere, and at the moment, it’s the most viable solution capable of global IoT connectivity.
However, cellular IoT is by no means perfect.
As most of us are familiar with, to connect to an IoT network we’ll need a SIM card, just like with our smartphones or tablets. Yet, these traditional SIM cards are not specifically designed for IoT applications, creating all sorts of problems.
This is where the M2M SIM cards come in.
Image Source: Pixabay
What Is an M2M SIM Card?
M2M stands for machine to machine, and as the name suggests, the M2M SIM card is designed for facilitating connections between two or more devices rather than connecting people.
While the basic function of an M2M SIM card is similar to that of a regular SIM card: connecting to a cellular network, there are also unique features only offered by M2M SIM cards which are especially geared towards IoT applications.
The terms “M2M SIM card” and “IoT SIM card” are often used interchangeably, and indeed they refer to the same thing. The M2M SIM card can allow the device to share data directly to other devices (hence, machine to machine) or to the software that manages the IoT application.
Why M2M SIM Cards Are Necessary?
Why can’t we just use the regular SIM cards to power our IoT devices?
As we have briefly discussed above, the physical SIM cards we use in our phones are simply insufficient in IoT applications due to several issues;
Regular SIM cards are typically locked to a single network provider. If we get a SIM card from AT&T, for example, we won’t be able to use the same card to connect to Verizon’s network.
Thus, when we want to switch from one network provider to another, typically we’ll need to get a new card from the new provider and physically replace the old card from the device.
If we are only dealing with one smartphone or tablet, this might not be a big issue. However, imagine having to change hundreds of SIM cards from hundreds of devices connected in an IoT project.
Traditional SIM cards we have inside our smartphones are designed for day-to-day, regular usage, and so they aren’t very durable. Typically they can only last around two years or so in regular usage before we’ll need to replace the SIM card with a new one.
However, Iot devices and sensors are often installed in areas with harsh environments like extreme temperatures or vibrations, and regular SIM cards are simply not ideal for these situations.
3. Bulk management capability
Still related to the above’s issue. An IoT project may involve hundreds and even thousands of devices in a single network.
Yet, our regular SIM card doesn’t involve any tool for managing these devices in bulk, so we can only manage each device as a single entity. This can be a major hassle in an Iot application.
Also, in an IoT application, it’s common for one device to use less or more data than the others, so data aggregation is crucial. When, for instance, a device is overusing data while another is underusing data, a regular SIM card can’t aggregate their data usages, which will translate into worse cost-efficiency.
M2M SIM Cards VS Standard SIM Cards
By considering the issues above, an M2M SIM card offers some unique advantages over regular SIM cards, especially in IoT applications:
1. Remote Provisioning
M2M SIM cards are typically designed to be carrier-agnostic (multi-network), meaning you are not fixed to one network provider. This allows the IoT device to roam in different network providers on a steered or non-steered roaming.
A steered roaming meaning the SIM would always default to its primary network even when a better signal is available. A non-steered roaming, however, is useful for IoT applications where reliability is really important. When the primary network is down, for example, the M2M SIM card can automatically switch to the better available signal.
Some M2M SIM cards, especially those in eSIM form factor, might also allow remote SIM provisioning (RSP), which enables users to switch between networks remotely (via software or API) without needing to touch the device or physically replace the SIM card.
2. Centralized Management
M2M SIMs enable users complete control over the connected SIM cards via a client portal or management software. This allows us to monitor and manage data usage and SIM activity across multiple M2M SIMs in a single platform.
For example, we can activate and deactivate SIMs remotely, which is useful when an IoT device is stolen, and we can also limit data usage when a device has overused data.
3. Data Aggregation
With M2M SIM cards, you get the flexibility to share data usage across all your devices in one data plan. M2M SIM cards that offer global coverage can help you connect multiple devices located in different geographical locations to a single plan for your convenience.
As discussed above, this can also help in cases where different devices are using more or less data than the others. Thus, we can maintain cost-efficiency.
An M2M sim card is a much more effective solution in IoT applications.
Also, depending on the form factor, the M2M SIM card can last up to a decade in a harsh environment. An M2M eSIM (embedded SIM) is a chip integrated into the device’s body, and thus it’s protected by the device’s shell for extra durability. This can be useful in IoT applications where devices are deployed in harsh environments and will improve the overall cost-efficiency of the IoT project.