A history of the SIM card

Last updated: 19 March 2014

The SIM card is a small and mighty device that has changed the face of communication since it was created in 1991. To echo the comparison Nick Keatley makes on the Wireless Banana blog, it’s a chip that has seen several iterations over the years, reducing in size from a credit card to a postage stamp.

Nick explains that Subscriber Identity Modules (SIM) store information required for authentication, allowing a user’s phone to attach to a GSM network. The GSM still serves approximately 80 per cent of the global wireless market and is used in at least 212 countries and territories today. The SIM card is universally admired as a versatile and inexpensive slice of tech while SIM only deals can save people money as users aren’t locked into a long-term contract.

The beauty of the SIM card, as Nick goes on to say, is that each card has a serial number as well as network information, and users can remove the card from one phone and install it in a new one without registering the device. This has made it an invaluable tool in the communication Swiss-army-knife that is the modern cellphone (both smart and dumb).

Past form factors include the 2FF SIM and 3FF Micro SIM and today many of us are familiar with the Nano SIM – the tiny 4FF chip we slide into our iPhones – but Apple fought hard to win the SIM war and get the smallest SIM possible for the iPhone 5. As Ed Oswald of Extreme Tech noted back in 2012, RIM, Nokia, and Motorola favored a more radical rethinking of the SIM card, without a tiny loading drawer.

The reality of all this is that not everyone has a 4FF smartphone and many people don’t yet have a 3FF smartphone, which gives manufacturers a headache as they need to stock multiple SIMs with multiple adapters.

We’ve been working on a solution to this problem, and will be announcing an innovative product that will simplify logistics and storage for manufacturers, leaving MNOs to focus on what the customer wants. To find out more, keep your eyes peeled to the Gemalto blog over the next few weeks, and come and see us at CARTES in Paris, from 19 to 21 November.

One thought on “A history of the SIM card

  1. Great post Philippe,

    I hadn’t even considered the implications from a logistics standpoint for the tech industry, now all I can think of is how wasteful it is to be running these different SIM types depending on the device you are using.

    It seems like a far more cost effective way to address the issue of SIM cards would be to have a uniform SIM card for the entire industry which could be cut down to size for its application and then programmed for the specific device at the time of purchase.

    Or, the device manufacturers could integrate the SIMs functionality into the devices they produce, then retailers could have a single system to program all devices sold. The impact would be in the hundreds of millions world wide by the time you factor in all costs of producing, shipping, and storing SIMs.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your solution.

    Thanks for the post.


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