What is an IoT SIM Card, and How Does it Work?

The IoT (Internet of Things) offers a ton of benefits and capabilities for almost every industry, from manufacturing to medical technology.

IoT devices require some sort of connectivity to access the internet and communicate with other IoT devices on the network. Achieving this connectivity requires an IoT SIM card.

However, IoT SIM cards are not a one-size-fits-all piece of hardware. There are different types of IoT SIM cards and a wide selection of IoT SIM card providers.

Therefore, “What is an IoT SIM card, and how does it work?” are critical questions to answer before you leverage the IoT in your business. This article will answer these questions, and more, so you can leverage the power of IoT technology.

What is an IoT SIM Card?

An IoT SIM card is also known as an M2M (Machine-to-Machine) SIM card. IoT SIM cards identify IoT devices when they connect to wireless and cellular networks. IoT SIM cards are used almost exclusively in IoT devices. Consumer devices use standard SIM cards.

The IoT SIM card in an IoT device provides connectivity to 2G, 3G, 4G-LTE, and 5G cellular networks, as well as other networks such as LTE-M, NB-IoT, and LoRaWAN.

Some IoT SIM cards connect only to one type of network. However, there are multi-carrier IoT SIM cards, which can connect to several networks

IoT SIM cards also come in the typical SIM card sizes:

  • Mini SIM (2FF): 25mm x 15mm
  • Micro SIM (3FF): 15mm x 12mm
  • Nano SIM (4FF): 12.3mm x 8.8mm
  • Embedded SIM: 6mm x 5mm
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The size of IoT SIM card used in a device depends on the size of the device and intended application. Tiny devices such as sensors often use an embedded SIM, while larger IoT devices such as a baby monitor or smart refrigerator have the space for a mini SIM.

In most cases, the size and application of an IoT device also dictates whether or not the IoT SIM card is removable by the end user. Embedded IoT SIM cards are almost never removable or serviceable by end users, as they must be soldered to a circuit board.

Lastly, every IoT device requires an IoT SIM card, because an unconnected device can’t really be part of the IoT. If you’re implementing IoT technology, at some point you’ll have to make some decisions about IoT SIM card types and carriers.

IoT SIM vs Normal SIM

Even though an IoT SIM card provides similar functionality to a standard SIM card, an IoT SIM card isn’t the same as the SIM card in your smartphone.

First, IoT SIM cards are designed specifically to be economical for large scale applications, where many SIM cards are required. As such, IoT SIM cards are often sold in bulk and run on IoT data plans.

Additionally, IoT SIM cards are often capable of connecting to networks other than 2G, 3G, 4G-LTE, and 5G. There are several network standards which were developed specifically for IoT, and IoT SIM cards often connect to those IoT-specific networks, even though the normal cellular networks are capable of supporting IoT devices.

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IoT SIM cards are also designed to operate at lower data rates, with less power consumption than standard SIM cards. IoT devices are often smaller than smartphones and other devices, and they need to transmit less data. IoT SIM cards accommodate these limitations by trading data rates for lower power consumption.

Lastly, IoT SIM cards are usually more durable than standard SIM cards. IoT devices are often deployed outdoors or in harsh environments, and the SIM cards must be able to operate in these conditions. Therefore, IoT SIM cards work in a wider range of temperatures, are more corrosion resistant, and simply handle abuse better than standard SIM cards.

How does an IoT SIM Card Work?

An IoT SIM card stores security keys and credentials for connecting to a network. The IoT SIM card also houses the application which passes these keys and credentials to the device’s cellular modem.

In turn, the cellular modem transmits the keys and credentials to the network router when the device connects to the network. The credentials and keys identify the device as being allowed to connect to the network, and the network router establishes a connection with the IoT device.

Each network has unique keys and credentials required for devices to connect. If an IoT device needs to connect to a different network, it will need the appropriate keys and credentials. Many IoT SIM cards can be replaced or reprogrammed to change the network the IoT device connects to.

Leverage the Power of IoT

Now that you know what IoT SIM cards are and how IoT SIM cards work, you’re ready to make sure an IoT SIM card provider offers the SIM cards you need for your IoT use case.

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Check the specs on your IoT devices, and use this information to make sure you’re getting what you need.

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