The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized the way we interact with the world around us. From smart homes to industrial automation, IoT devices are everywhere, and they rely on a solid and reliable connection to the internet to be able to perform their functions effectively. When it comes to providing cellular connectivity for these devices, there are two main options: using a local provider or opting for roaming services. In this article, we’ll compare the advantages and disadvantages of each approach to help you make an informed decision for your IoT project.
Local connectivity typically refers to the cellular services provided by the profiles (or technically, IMSIs) of network operators within a specific geographic region or country. These operators, often referred to as local operators or domestic operators, offer cellular connectivity services to users and devices within their designated coverage area. Local operators are responsible for building and maintaining the cellular infrastructure, including cell towers, base stations, and the core network, to ensure reliable voice and data services for their subscribers.
Roaming services in cellular connectivity refer to the ability of a mobile device, such as a smartphone or IoT device, to connect to a cellular network and access voice and data services outside of its home network’s coverage area. When a device “roams,” it means it is using the infrastructure of a different cellular network operator, usually in a location or country where its home network does not have direct coverage. This enables users to stay connected when traveling or when they are in areas where their home network’s coverage is not available.
IMSI: International Mobile Subscriber Identity: IMSI is a unique identifier associated with a SIM card, enabling network registration and authentication for mobile devices. Based on the IMSI hosted in the SIM and used by the device to connect on a network, the network provider will be able to identify the user and allow or block the connection.
Local vs Roaming Connectivity in IoT
When planning to deploy your IoT project, an important decision must be made regarding connectivity to decide if Local or Roaming IMSIs will be used. Depending on the specifics of your deployment and use case, you should consider favouring one over the other. Some important things to keep in mind are:
Low Usage vs High Usage
IoT use cases are typically divided between Low Usage (when a few MBs per month are needed for the device to perform its functions properly) or High Usage (when several GBs are needed monthly). Even though Roaming connectivity can be cheaper for Low Usage use cases, local connectivity would normally be more cost-effective for High Usage use cases.
The breaking point when Local stars become cheaper will largely depend on the country where the connectivity is needed, and the operator providing the service. In Regions like Europe, the US and Asia it is easy to get competitive rates for Roaming connectivity for a few GBs per month; while in Africa and Latin America, after 500MB or so rates increase more rapidly.
Some specific countries may have restrictions on the number of days a SIM Card can roam in a country or network. The three usual examples cited of specific regulations are China, Brazil and Turkey. These countries have a 90-day limit for roaming SIM card in the country. Apart from those few specific exceptions however, most countries don´t have any restrictions and welcome roaming SIM cards.
Since Local Connectivity will process the data in the core network locally within the same country, and Roaming Connectivity may come from a global operator a continent away, you may experience higher latency on roaming services over SIMs with local connectivity. Some global MVNOs may have regional breakout points closer to the country where your servers are located, lowering latency.
Depending on the use case, latency can be an issue or not. Typically, some IoT devices like GPS, GSM alarms, and Smart Metering don´t have issues with latency since you don´t need the information right away. Other use cases like POS devices, cameras, and drones require very low latency to work properly.
Roaming services unlock the possibility of Muli-operator coverage within a country. Some countries may not have a single operator that covers the whole country reliably, or in critical use cases having connectivity with only one operator can generate a single point of failure. Roaming connectivity enables the SIM card to connect to multiple operators within a country in a dynamic manner.
Moreover, when making international deployments, roaming connectivity will allow you to connect to local networks in multiple countries without the need for multiple contracts with local operators and easy access to a scalable solution internationally.
When choosing between local and roaming connectivity for your IoT deployment, the specific characteristics of your use case and technical needs should be evaluated. Local operator connectivity can be a cost-effective and reliable option for devices operating within a specific region with large data needs, but it may not be suitable for international deployments. Roaming services offer global coverage and scalability but come with cost considerations and potential regulatory challenges.
Ultimately, the decision should be based on the geographic scope of your IoT project, budget constraints, and the level of service quality you require. It’s essential to carefully assess these factors and conduct thorough research to ensure that your IoT devices have the right connectivity solution to meet your project’s needs.
Moabits can offer the best of both worlds, managing both, Local and Roaming IMSIs from the same platform, with transparent billing for both and the possibility to deploy one or the other depending on your current needs.
This article was written by Martin Pawluszek, Head of Growth at Moabits, and was first published on Moabits Blog here.