Cellular IoT: Connectivity SIM Data Plans



What is Cellular IoT?


Cellular IoT is a method of connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices using existing cellular networks – the same ones used by your mobile phone.


Traditionally, IoT devices are connected through shorter-range networks like WiFi and Bluetooth, or low-powered wide area networks (LPWAN).


Cellular IoT connectivity is a much more ubiquitous, stable, and mature technology compared to these other networks. It offers better coverage, signal strength, and availability since almost every country on Earth already has cellular infrastructure in place. That gives cellular IoT devices optimal performance, whether indoor or outdoor and for both low and high bandwidth applications.


While cellular connectivity is applicable for any IoT device, it’s especially beneficial for mission-critical applications that need to work 24/7. Having a backup cellular connection in case the primary network breaks down makes these devices infinitely more reliable.


How Does Cellular IoT Work?


To understand how IoT cellular connectivity works, it’s helpful to first learn about cellular technology.

  • IoT SIM Cards

Smartphones need a SIM card to connect to cellular networks, and the same is true with IoT cellular devices. Most devices that support cellular will have an IoT board with SIM card slots, with IoT data plans you can choose.


However, the difference with conventional phone SIMs is that IoT SIM cards can connect with any network in every country in the world. This ensures reliability and continued coverage, regardless of location, even if one mobile network goes down. It also gives your IoT the ability to switch to the most optimal connection in the area.


The SIM card is just one part of the IoT cellular equation, as it only allows you to authenticate with cellular networks. Connecting to them requires a modem.

  • Modems and Frequency Bands

The most important thing to consider with modems is the frequency band and network type.


The frequency band determines the specific RF frequency your IoT device uses to transmit and receive data. Different countries and networks use varying frequency bands, so you need to know the specific ones used in your location.


It’s also important to note that lower frequency bands equal more coverage and less interference from large obstacles like buildings or tunnels. However, high-frequency bands offer better reliability and signal quality in densely populated areas where more devices are trying to connect.


Types of Mobile Networks and When to Use Them


  • NB-IoT

NB-IoT is generally suited for low-bandwidth applications or devices that transmit data intermittently from a fixed location. A key value is that the NB-IoT modems consume much less power to connect, making it perfect for battery-operated devices. It’s also great for areas with weak signal coverage, making it ideal for outdoor sensors and measuring equipment and indoor applications where normal cellular signals do not easily penetrate.


  • LTE-M

LTE-M, or Long Term Evolution Machine Type Communication, is a higher-bandwidth network well-suited for IoT devices that require cloud access, roaming data, or transmission of large files, with lower power consumption requirements than standard LTE. Due to its stability and speed, LTE-M is also the network of choice for critical devices that require split-second processing, such as smart cars or medical equipment. Many LTE-M modems can also optionally connect to standard LTE networks (consuming more power) when an LTE-M signal is not available.


Per the GSMA, 136 operators in 64 countries have deployed/launched at least one of the NB-IoT or LTE-M technologies. Of those, 39 operators have deployed/launched both NB-IoT and LTE-M.


  • Thirty-four countries are home to both NB-IoT and LTE-M networks.

  • Twenty-nine countries have NB-IoT networks only.


  • 5G

5G is the next-generation network standard designed to be faster and more stable than current technologies like 4G and LTE. 5G was released in 2019 worldwide, but it has yet to fully replace 4G and LTE.


There are IoT modems available that are 5G-ready. However, they tend to be more expensive with limited applications since 5G isn’t fully mainstream yet.


Is Cellular IoT Right For Your Business?


The biggest reason to get cellular IoT is its reliability and coverage. Some devices can’t afford to stop even for a split second, so getting cellular IoT is vital for these cases.

Cellular IoT ensures your IoT device will work as expected even in the absence of WiFi or LPWAN. It’s also the best solution if your IoT device is deployed outdoors or always on the go.


Security is also a significant advantage of cellular IoT devices, mainly due to the robust authentication protocols with SIM cards. Also, since the device uses a separate channel, it’s not in danger of hacks and viruses that infect your primary network.


Simply put, if you need to deploy your IoT devices anywhere in the world, cellular IoT is a great choice.