Insights & Resources4 min read

Breaking Down What an IoT SIM Card is and How it Works

Find out the differences are between regular and IoT SIMs, and about popular IoT SIM use cases like wearables + home automation.

Pete Christianson
User holding an IoT SIM card, ready to insert in an IoT device.
IoT SIM cards represent the latest in SIM technology. The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of interrelated physical devices around the world that connect and share data. And, after much anticipation, the IoT market is set for tremendous growth as it scales across more mainstream business use-cases. According to McKinsey, 25% of businesses use IoT technology today, and Gartner projects that the number of IoT devices will increase to a whopping 43 billion by 2023.
As a result, IoT spending is expected to maintain a double-digit annual growth rate, surpassing the $1 trillion mark in 2022. Want to be part of this fast-growing trend? Telnyx IoT SIM cards are easy to get started with -- you can get started and order your first one in less than 5 minutes!

Regular SIM Cards vs. IoT SIM Cards

Regular SIM cards were created for mobile phones, allowing them to send and receive data wirelessly. IoT devices, however, have very different requirements to the smartphone in your pocket—including more robust network connectivity, remote/bulk management capabilities, more stringent security, and lower data levels. IoT SIMs are therefore catered to meet these specific needs.

Traditional SIM Cards

The first SIM card was developed back in 1991 as a way to connect mobile phones to wireless networks, as well as securely identify and authenticate subscribers. Today, SIM cards are ubiquitous, enabling over 7 billion devices to connect to cellular networks globally.
SIM cards have helped to revolutionize the way we live our lives—removing barriers to global communication, and fueling the millennial culture of on-the-go media consumption.

IoT SIM Cards

IoT SIM cards, on the other hand, were developed to connect devices to one another with a different set of needs.
First, IoT SIMs need more robust global network coverage. While smartphone SIM cards are typically connected to just one carrier, IoT SIM cards can often connect to hundreds of carriers globally. Providers typically enable automatic switching between carriers to ensure seamless connectivity. Some providers also offer users the ability to remotely configure SIMs to preference specific networks, for even greater levels of network control.
Another distinct difference is that business users require the ability to monitor and manage IoT SIMs remotely, and in bulk. This is typically offered via UI or API. Some wireless network providers also offer more granular configuration options, like the ability to set data limits across a group of SIMs, or even configure specific network preferences.
Finally, because IoT SIM cards have significantly lower data requirements—consumer data plans simply aren’t fit for purpose. Businesses require the ability to share data plans across multiple devices in order to maintain cost efficiencies, while still allowing for variable data usage among a group of devices and SIMs.
Choosing the right cellular IoT provider can have a big impact on your experience. Read our guide to help you make an informed decision.

IoT SIM Card Use Cases

Cellular failovers

Hardwire internet and communication networks are susceptible to natural disasters and can also suffer from poor network infrastructures, especially in rural areas. Fortunately, 4G, 5G, and LTE networks are fast enough to serve as suitable backups for most wired connections.
Cellular IoT devices are ideal for connection sensing and disconnect reporting that enables communications providers to provide near-immediate failover to cellular networks. And, with LTE enabled IoT devices, the sensing and reporting infrastructure requires very little additional network equipment.

Wearables and smart electronics

This territory has already been pioneered by companies like Apple and Fitbit. But, smartwatches are just the beginning of wearable technology. Other brands are already producing smart glasses, and practical augmented reality is close.
Beyond the typical sports and lifestyle applications, these new technologies have the potential to revolutionize things like customer support, training and education, home automation and even things like equipment repair.
For instance, augmented reality could be used to guide users through repairs that would ordinarily require them to mail their product to the factory.

Industrial IoT

Adding internet connectivity to machines and sensors improves efficiency and maintenance routines. Quality control measurements, maintenance interval information and equipment status data can be monitored in real-time and transmitted to remote locations.
This reduces the need for physical equipment inspections and enables quality control to be integrated into production processes, rather than implemented as a post-production manufacturing stage.

Home automation

Demand for smart homes and devices is steadily on the rise, in fact, the market for home automation is expected to reach $40 billion in 2020. Today, most smart home devices can be controlled remotely, via a smartphone app or voice commands.
However, the future of home automation will take things one step further— your devices will automatically take the required action in order to maintain maximum comfort levels and/or energy efficiency, responding in real-time to external stimulus and occupant behavior. Prime examples include smart lighting, thermostat and alarm systems.
You can read more about Telnyx IoT SIM use cases here.

IoT SIM Card Form Factors

As SIM technology has evolved, SIM cards have grown progressively smaller. For IoT devices, you’ll want to choose the right SIM form factor based on device type, network standards and environmental conditions. Here’s a breakdown of three IoT SIM card form factors available from Telnyx (embedded SIMs are available by request).
  • Mini SIM (2FF) measures 25 by 15mm, and is often used for vehicle tracking sensors.
  • Micro SIM (3FF) measures 15 by 12mm, around half the size of its predecessor, and is often used in tablets or health monitors.
  • Nano SIM (4FF) measures 12.3 by 8.8mm and is also slimmer than the mini and micro SIM at 0.67mm (compared to 0.76mm), making it perfect for devices where space is limited by size restrictions, like wearables.
  • Embedded SIM (eSIM or eUICC) the latest evolution of the SIM card measures at 6mm by 5mm. It’s built into the device, which has some benefits for IoT - such as greater resilience in severe weather.

Common IoT SIM Card Questions

How do I activate an IoT SIM card?

First, you’ll need to purchase an IoT SIM card via Amazon. Once you’ve received your SIM card, activate it in 5 simple steps by following this activation guide.

How much do IoT SIM cards cost?

Costs for IoT SIM cards vary depending on volume and data requirements. Telnyx offers a scalable, pay-as-you-go option for cellular IoT connectivity where you only pay for the data you use and you’re free to change plans anytime. You can find detailed pricing information here.

How do I find a SIM card number?

Your ICCID is the unique identifier for your SIM card. You can find your ICCID easily via our portal or API. Alternatively, it's printed on your SIM card.

What information is stored on a SIM card?

SIM cards typically store a set of authentication credentials which help keep their data secure. Both regular and IoT SIMs store:
  • ICCID (integrated circuit card identifier) is the identifier of the actual SIM itself.
  • Authentication key (ki) is a 128-bit value used as part of the authentication process for SIMs on the GSM mobile network.
  • Local Area Identity (LAI) desribes the distinct location area of an operator network. This data helps the network pinpoint the exact location of a SIM.

Which IoT devices use SIM cards in 2020?

IoT devices enable the collection and sharing of data across multiple industry verticals and use cases. The applications are endless. Here are some examples of different IoT devices and what they’re used for:
  • Wearables - smart watches and fitness trackers are already popular, and smart glasses are beginning to gain traction.
  • Home automation devices - from smart lighting, to thermostat control and even windows, fridges and alarms, the smart home is changing the way we live, one device at a time.
  • Agricultural sensors - have revolutionized the way that farms are managed, with livestock tracking and weather and soil monitoring.
  • Healthcare monitors - provide doctors with a patients’ physical data - like blood pressure and heart rate - so they can make more informed recommendations remotely.
  • Logistics and fleet management sensors - allow businesses to track locations and progress in real time.

At Telnyx, we've made easy to order, use, and build applications with IoT SIMs. Sign up with your business email to get your first one on us!
If you’re just getting started with IoT, check out our IoT connectivity best practices for an in-depth guide to deploying your first IoT network.
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