To Steer or not to Steer?

With more than 20 years of experience in Telco prior to joining floLIVE,  I was sure that I knew everything about Telecommunications. At floLIVE I learned that IoT is like another planet: it has different challenges, and  even a very simple tracking device on a parcel traveling around the world does not behave the same way as a regular consumer tourist using roaming.  Many known terms have a totally different meaning in the IoT world. Recently there is a lot of buzz and confusion around Steered or not Steered SIM. Is it good or bad for IoT? Actually both of the options are good but in different scenarios and for different devices. Let’s dive in and understand what kind of Steering exists and what can best fit your needs.

SIM Steering for IoT Connectivity

What You Should Know About Network Steering

What You Should Know About Network Steering

Generally speaking, all cellular devices connect to a home network, which is the network of the cellular connectivity provider that issues their SIM cards. When devices need coverage outside of their local area, mobile operators enter into roaming agreements with operators in other countries. A mobile operator is likely to have agreements with multiple operators in each country.

When a device connects in a new region, the home operator will manipulate the network to ensure that a device’s SIM card will connect to the network that is most favorable to their needs as a business. For example a device will connect to the operator with whom the mobile operator has the best commercial agreement with, rather than the operator that offers the end device the best coverage, performance, or service. The act of connecting the device to the new preferred network is known as network steering, or steered roaming.

This kind of network steering is a good choice for tourists and travelers with mobile phones and client devices who can manually select their local network of choice or use a wireless network, for example if the default network fails to connect. However, with IoT devices – it’s a whole different story. IoT devices often don’t have an end user or even a UI to manually switch over from one network to another. More importantly, IoT devices are far more sensitive to performance issues such as latency and quality of service than consumer devices, so error rates and disconnects can be catastrophic.

How Can IoT Devices Gain Better Control?

As IoT devices can’t rely on a mobile operator’s default steering configuration, they need a smarter approach. However, each IoT device is unique, and has its own requirements. Different devices in different situations will need a combination of performance and cost-effectiveness to allow IoT businesses to thrive.

Steering can be defined in three different elements of the cellular network:

SIM

Using a SIM applet, the customer can define which networks are preferred (PLMN), and which networks are forbidden (FPLMN). This can be set directly on the SIM card during manufacturing, or it can be provisioned over-the-air (OTA). Based on these predefined settings, the SIM will connect to local networks.

Advantages of this approach: The SIM does not waste time and energy connecting to unfavorable networks, reducing the drain on battery life. It will work well for devices that have to connect within a short time.

Disadvantages of this approach: If the SIM cannot find a preferred network, it will not connect at all. For mission-critical devices like in energy or healthcare, this can cause serious problems.

Core Network

With this method of steering, the SIM can connect to any available network, but behind the scenes the core network will approve or reject connection attempts based on pre-configured favorable and undesirable networks.

Advantages of this approach: More flexible control over the allowed networks, and the ability for providers to create custom steering configurations to meet specific business requirements. The device will connect to the strongest available network.

Disadvantages of this approach: By default the device connects to networks in a sequential order, and needs to wait to see if the connection is approved, causing longer connection cycles that can drain battery power. Some IoT devices have only 30 seconds to connect and such devices will not be able to complete the scan cycle without the correct preffered PLMN on the SIM itself.

Billing

If a customer has a connectivity provider with real-time billing capabilities, connected to the core network, they can monitor the data usage of each SIM card in real-time. By setting a quota for each network or provider, networks can be blocked in real time when this quota is exceeded or a rate of the specific network is too high.

Advantages of this approach: Using real-time billing allows for precise control over network usage, keeping connectivity costs under complete visibility and control.

Disadvantages of this approach: The SIM can attempt to connect to a blocked network that can drain battery power, and this method also leads to communication back and forth between SIM, core network, and billing.

Which method of steering is the most efficient?

When weighing up the pros and cons of network steering, the important factor is going to be your specific use case.

If you’re thinking about efficiency and saving battery life, using steering via the SIM card is the most efficient approach for IoT. That makes it perfect for battery-operated devices.

When control is the most critical element of your IoT business, then using the core network will be a preferred option, providing the most oversight and flexibility.

Alternatively, if your company is prioritizing keeping costs under control, network steering via real-time billing will be the right choice. 

At floLIVE, we say – why choose? With all three options integrated into a single platform, we can offer configuration based on your specific needs, supporting more competitive pricing and optimized quality of service. We’re not looking to push devices to any preferred network of our own. Our priority is giving our customers the best option that meets their needs.

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