Truths and Myths about Multi-Network Data SIMs, Part 1

Today’s IoT data connectivity market is crowded with companies vying for your attention. It’s fair to say that many offer something similar, so any opportunity to try to differentiate is seized upon. An example of this is Multi Network Data SIMs.

What is a Multi Network Data SIM?

Mobile network operators (MNOs) will offer you ‘native’ connectivity services on their own networks. Each of these has strengths and weaknesses. Their key weakness is that the MNO’s have built their networks to reach as much of the population as possible (since consumers are their principle customers), rather than as much of the geography of the country as possible. This results in them reaching 95% plus of the population, but less than 70% of the geography of the country.

An alternative type of connectivity service, offered by many MVNO’s and IoT Service Providers, has been Multi-Network SIMs. Or to use another name, Permanent Roaming SIMs.

Permanent Roaming SIMs

Fact 1: Multi Network Data SIMs offer increased coverage

Multi Network Data SIMs (not to be confused with Multi IMSI SIMs) are normally sourced from a foreign MNO, typically originating from Europe. They can operate abroad as part of the bilateral roaming agreements that exist between all MNOs. Since a European MNO will typically have such agreements with most – if not all – of the MNOs in any given country, they will be able to roam on most, if not all, of the networks in each country. They can do so permanently, so long as certain quotas negotiated between the MNOs are not exceeded. 

For example, AT&T and KPN Netherlands may agree that no more than 5% of their total population of IoT SIMs may roam in each other’s backyards. Roaming is additional business for the ‘home’ MNO. So it makes sense for them to welcome this business, so long as it doesn’t start to encroach too much on their own domestic business.

These offer access to multiple networks in each country, which provides better coverage than access to just one network. This makes them appealing to companies whose IoT devices are mobile and move across long distances. Especially if those distances include rural areas where the coverage provided by the MNOs is patchy. 

They are also appealing to customers whose need for virtually guaranteed coverage, or a choice of network coverage, is critical.

Device modules control the switching between available networks, which happens when the signal strength of the current network is low and, simultaneously, there is another network available with a much higher signal strength. With some carriers, the SIMs are ‘steered’, so that they will automatically choose a preferred network if available.

Permanent Roaming SIMs

Myth 1: Most countries won’t allow Multi Network Data SIMs

This is false. Some countries, like Brazil and Turkey, will not allow the use of Multi Network SIMs at all. They consider this to be unfair competition for the local MNOs. 

It has been suggested in some quarters that this is a growing trend, but there isn’t much evidence to support this. It’s possible that such a trend might emerge.

But the fact is, roaming revenues are big business for most MNOs, and they stand to lose these if they block roaming.

So, an outright reversal is highly unlikely.

Myth 2: ‘Home’ network will kick the Multi Network Data SIMs off their network

This is possible, if the foreign carrier has exceeded the aforementioned quotas. There are instances in the last few years where this has happened in the US. But most European MNO’s act responsibly to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If it did they could retaliate by shutting down the offending network’s SIMs in their backyard as well. 

Moreover, given that a Multi Network Data SIM can typically connect to multiple networks, if one local network were to shut them down without warning, it would still have access to others. Thus service would be maintained. The likelihood that ALL the local MNO’s simultaneously kick them off their networks for exceeding the bilateral quotas is remote.

So the doomsayers are exaggerating the drawbacks of Multi Network SIMs to entice you to buy their alternatives.

Permanent Roaming SIMs

In summary, it boils down to a question of:

A) The attitude of the regulatory environment in the country where you need connectivity. And

B) Ensuring that, if you do consider Multi Network SIMs, your Service Provider uses a responsible originating MNO who observes the bilateral rules of engagement.

As always, what’s most important is finding a partner who can offer you the most suitable service for you and your application, and who doesn’t push one type of service over another.

Trafalgar Wireless offers a broad range of data connectivity services, which includes Multi Network Data SIMs, but also other solutions as we are network agnostic. We provide expert consultation to identify what we believe to be the most appropriate service for your devices and applications. 

If you are considering your options, please drop us a line.