cellular roaming vs. CAT-M roaming?

When Hologram negotiates roaming agreements with providers (AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, etc), is there a difference between roaming agreements for 3G, LTE, and LTE CAT-M? That is, if you’re able to use a Hologram SIM for a LTE CAT-1 cellular connection, should you expect that LTE CAT-M would also work (as long as provider supports it in the area)?

What I’m getting at isn’t so much technological. I’m wondering if there are contractual differences specific to CAT-M compared to LTE CAT-3 or CAT-1?

Hi Eric - Great question! There are certainly some nuances to delivering a global single IoT SIM and cellular IoT platform that require network agreements with different network partners. At Hologram, we’re working to provide a single SIM experience for all bands so customers can connect as simply and reliably as possible regardless of country, carrier, and radio access technology. We’re really excited about what Cat-M1 and Cat-NB means as new IoT-focused radio access technology for cellular connectivity, but it’s a new technology with its own quirks as hardware providers, carriers, and IoT providers work to fully support it. For some quick context, here are different levels of access required for a device to properly register to a network and transmit data on a cellular IoT network with any IoT/M2M SIM.

  1. Hardware & Radio Access Compatibility: First and foremost, does a cellular module have the proper channel band and frequency for specific radio technology where it is deployed. Globally, 3G GSM is standardized across 850/900/1800/1900Hz but for LTE the bands are distributed across many different channels based on country, carrier, LTE tech (eg. CAT-1 vs. CAT-4 vs. CAT-M1 vs. CAT-NB1), and even region.
  2. Network Standards: The 3GPP (telecommunications standards associations) and GSMA (global mobile network operator trade group) set industry standards for network access to devices in roaming scenarios to provide shared coverage across different network operators. These standards provide connectivity customers a smoother tower hand-off experience in use cases that benefit from overlapping coverage or in emergency situations
  3. Network Agreements: Once the previous requirements are fulfilled, actual business network agreements will determine the network behavior and access of SIMs on partner networks. This can vary by both a carrier by carrier as well as radio access technology basis.

As more global networks light up Cat-M connectivity, we’re excited to see what new devices are connected on our platform. Recently, we’ve worked with US carriers to verify Cat-M and Cat-NB in North America. Global network access and support will vary by country and carrier based on the items above. If you’re interested in further info for a Cat-M deployment, we’d love to hear more from you and put you in touch with our sales engineering team.

As you guys work with different providers, I’m interested to learn if CAT-M roaming agreements are somehow more difficult to obtain than 3G and other LTE CAT-x roaming agreements.

The usecase for CAT-M is significantly different than previously released cellular technologies, so I’m curious if the monetization strategies or transactional costs on the carrier sides conflicts with some of these roaming efforts. It’s something we as users have no visibility over.

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