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Selecting a New Provider, Procuring New SIMs

Before settling on a network provider, make sure that the provider has good coverage in the project area you are working in. Users will send data capture in their CommCare application using mobile internet. 

A good way to verify this is just to ask people who live in the area, or mobile shopkeepers.  You can also visit the areas you will be working in and verify which network providers offer the best coverage. There are some tools that can help do this. 

  •  OpenSignal is a tool for finding network coverage; they also have a useful app.

Considerations when selecting a Network Provider:

  • Check that the provider offers billing by kilobyte of data (rather than by time) and that the rate offered per kilobyte is competitive. 
  • Ask if you can procure a set of SIMs in series for your project
  • Ask if the Network Provider offers an option for closed-user groups so you can set up free calling (and/or SMS) between CommCare users and/or project staff
  • Compare pre-paid and post-paid plans
  • Ask how much balance new SIMs are pre-loaded with. You may have to re-charge prior to training (in case you intend to use SMS, install remotely, view real-time data submissions during training).

Using Multiple Providers, Leveraging Existing SIMs

Some projects do not want to procure new SIMs and choose to go with SIMs owned by their users. This isn't the recommended approach as it could involve more overhead to manage long term. Considerations when using existing SIMs owned by users: 

  • Note the provider and data plan options for each user so the project can set up a recharge plan/system for the phones
  • Assess coverage/quality of network

No Network Provider, No SIMs

Some project sites do not have the network connectivity you hoped for or may not want to deal with managing SIM cards. If users frequently go to a place that has WiFi then they can submit data without a SIM card.

Choosing a Data Plan

A common question that comes up is "how big a data plan do I need?"

Basic CommCare Forms without Multimedia

To make a rough estimate, you can see how large forms are by seeing the file size of the raw XML of a form (go to the "Submit History" report -> enter the information for the form you want to see -> Select "View Form" -> Raw XML -> copy into a text editor and save), but a decent rule of thumb is 7-10kb/form

You can then multiply that by the number of forms a day a FLW will be submitting, and the number of days a month they will work.

For example, for a project where the FLW submits 20 forms a day, 25 days a month:    20 forms x 25 days a month x 10kb/form = 5MB 

Additional Considerations

You will want to add additional data for:

  • Updates to the Application
  • Pulling down case data if your app uses case sharing
  • Data logs (small forms that are occasionally sent by CommCare in the background to record errors)
  • Multimedia capture questions
  • Background services on the phone (not related to CommCare)
  • Additional use of data if such applications are not blocked (facebook, youtube, etc.)

Many CommCare projects comfortably use monthly data plans of 100 MB or less.

If you want to lockdown your phones so that users cannot access certain applications, check out Dimagi's new FocusMDM product here.

FlickswitchFlickswitch lets you take control of your enterprise SIM cards. Managing large numbers of device and M2M SIMs does not need to be painful. Flickswitch gives you more control and helps you save on mobile expenditure across several African mobile networks. Works in many African countries


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