Consumer vs. commercial SIM cards

Written by
Matthew Bingham
Published on
June 15, 2022
You may think that consumer and commercial plans are the same however, that’s not the case - there’s a big difference between a consumer and a commercial customer. Learn why it matters.
Tablet of contents

You may think these words "consumer" and "commercial customer" are interchangeable however, that’s not the case - there’s a big difference between a consumer and a commercial customer. Let's start by defining the difference between the two:

The financial conduct authority (FCA) defines this as the following:

  •   A consumer is any natural person who is acting for purposes which are outside his trade or profession.
  •   A commercial customer is a customer who is not a consumer.
  •   If it is not clear in a particular case whether a customer is a consumer or a commercial customer, a firm must treat the customer as a consumer.

Why does this matter? Well, the terms and services that apply to consumer plans vs. commercial plans vary immensely and impacts your internet experience.

As someone who personally owns a mobile phone plan with a network provider, I’m a consumer. The agreement for my SIM card and the use thereof is between myself and the network. The service works well enough for my needs. I browse the web, reply to emails, make calls, send text messages and watch videos online. Occasionally I hook up a laptop and browse the internet from my phone's hotspot. The agreement states I can do all of this, as long as I don’t take the piss. It also states that I alone can use the service, and that the SIM card and plan cannot be used by anyone other than me. I’m also not allowed to resell the SIM card or service - and why would I?

The average consumer plan

Consumer plans:

  •   Can only be used by a single end-user
  •   Can only be sold by a network or authorised network dealer
  •   May be disconnected when roaming outside the network operators allowed regions for more than 30, 60 or 90 days
  •   May disconnect if the network discover you are not the intended end-user
  •   Usually include a fair usage policy or speed throttling

The average commercial plan

Commercial plans:

  •   Can be used simultaneously by many users
  •   Can be re-sold by authorised data providers
  •   Will not disconnect when roaming

Commercial plans are more expensive than consumer plans for two good reasons:

They are legit and allow roaming.

Consumer plans are very bad news for vessels. Think of a yacht cruising around Europe with guests on-board. If you have a consumer grade SIM plan and the operator notices that you are roaming to different countries, you'll likely be disconnected. You may also be disconnected if the operator notices that you are outside the country of origin for that SIM card. Using a huge amount of data and video streaming? It's likely that your consumer grade plan will have a fair usage policy and start throttling the connection, making even simple web browsing almost impossible.

Hopefully at this point the argument in favour of commercial SIM cards for your vessel is clear. If your data supplier doesn't give you a commercial grade plan, forget them and look for a different provider.