August 2

Rony Cohen

Why Roaming is Inadequate for IoT?


IoT technologies have developed at neck-breaking speed in the past decade, much faster than the existing cellular infrastructure could actually follow. A variety of these IoT devices must work across borders, whether they are static devices like metering, POS (Point of Sale) systems, healthcare equipment, or mobile devices in motion like asset trackers or fleet management solutions. Many of these IoT devices come equipped with a roaming SIM provided by a mobile operator or other connectivity provider

However, if we look at the very basics of it, the roaming infrastructure wasn’t built to support a large number of devices for an extensive period of time. The idea of roaming was that a very small percentage of consumers would be roaming at any given time, for instance tourists and business travelers, so the network will never get overwhelmed. 

Inadequate roaming infrastructure, high roaming costs and restrictive GDPR and other privacy regulations make roaming an ill-fitting solution for IoT technologies. Here we look at the five main reasons why roaming isn’t an adequate solution for connected devices and what should companies look at instead.

Poor Performance

First and foremost, let’s look at performance. Regardless of where the device is based, the data it generates is being routed through the home network before reaching its destination. This leads to an increased latency as it takes time for the data to travel to the home mobile operator and back. This slows down communications and can easily drain battery  which in itself is a massive challenge for IoT solutions.

GDPR and Other Privacy Violations

Not only data privacy is becoming increasingly important, but privacy regulations can differ per country or per sector making it difficult for companies to stay on top of it. For example, you may have a point of sale (POS) device in Germany that uses a roaming SIM card from a US mobile operator. This means that the data will travel around the world before it loops back to the host country, exposing you to possible breaches of GDPR regulations (which stipulate that data originating from an EU device needs to remain in the EU).

This is, of course, an oversimplified example. But, imagine an enterprise customer with hundreds of devices deployed across 10 or 20 different countries. Staying on top of privacy regulations for each country and providing a seamless connectivity solution can become mission impossible.

Permanent Roaming Restrictions

The exponential growth of connected devices means that certain countries and independent mobile operators have applied their own “permanent roaming bans” to protect their own connectivity bandwidth. In this case, devices can use roaming for a limited period of time, usually between three to six months, after which point they’re disconnected without the option to regain connectivity. 

Some countries like Turkey, China and Brazil have explicit bans on permanent roaming while others have a more subtle, yet equally limiting approach. The Middle East, for example, requires that all cellular connectivity services are provided by a licensed local operator which effectively excludes the option for permanent roaming. In the U.S, Canada and Australia, the onus is on the network operators to decide whether they allow permanent roaming or not depending on the relationship they have with the connectivity provider. 

High Roaming Costs

Roaming costs differ per country and per roaming agreement, so they can be incredibly hard to predict. While IoT-specific roaming agreements can bundle different data plans together to make it more affordable, you still run the risk of incurring additional charges or having these agreements change without much warning. 

Imagine that your operations rely on large data transmissions. One simple change in the pricing structure can have a massive impact on your bottom line. Without the option to manage your connectivity over-the-air (OTA), changing providers can become a costly exercise in itself as you have to physically replace SIM cards in all of your devices. 

In general, using roaming for data transmission would generally be more expensive than relying on a local network provider. Depending on the size of your operations, this can become an unsustainable way of running your business over time.


And last but not least, when we talk about roaming there are inherent security concerns. Not only do you not have visibility over how your data travels, but you also don’t have control over how the host Mobile Network Operator (MNO) secures its network. This means that you can’t have any assurances regarding security when you’re deploying your devices abroad.

This goes back to the overall discussion around infrastructure – using the existing roaming models leaves you at the mercy of the host MNO which you have no control over and which may observe lower security standards. This unwittingly puts you at a greater risk of having your devices compromised.

Moving Ahead

It’s only natural that the first IoT solutions relied on the roaming services that were available at the time. It’s the best IoT providers could do with what was available to them. 

However, we’re reaching a point where IoT solutions can no longer rely on traditional roaming agreements and a network infrastructure that’s been built for individual consumers. Instead, IoT technology providers need to look at alternatives which give them a better, more secure and a more sustainable solution long term – built with IoT in mind. This means taking advantage of local connectivity, at local rates, on a global level. 

If you want to find out how you can do this, then get in touch with our team at floLIVE and we’d be happy to walk you through your options and find the best IoT connectivity solution for you.

August 2

Rony Cohen


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