The SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) card is a small integrated circuit board that sits in every phone and network-connected mobile device. As its name suggests, it carries information about the subscriber and authentication details.
You SIM contains your phone number, your IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity), your PIN and your PUK (personal unblocking code). It’s a handy little item.
Changing SIMs is one of the great traditions of mobile telephony. For most people it’s a pain. You usually need to change SIMs when you change suppliers, change handsets, or change phone numbers. They come in various sizes, including the new microSIMs and nanoSIMs.
Now it looks like SIMs are on the way out. Like many other things, the data they contain, stored on a small piece of hardware, can just as easily be stored elsewhere, even in the cloud. There is no need to put it all on a small physical piece of circuitry.
There has been talk for year about abolishing SIMs, but it has needed agreement between suppliers and carriers. Now that is starting to happen, and it seems like the SIM’s days are numbered. The next generation of Apple smartphone, the iPhone 7, may well be the first SIMless phone.
Britain’s respected Financial Times newspaper reports that the two largest smartphone providers, Apple and Samsung, are in talks to develop and launch eSIMs – electronic SIM cards, which will store all the information now contained on a SIM card within the phone itself, where it could be easily changed.
The move needs the approval of the GSMA, the industry association for mobile operators, who have been reluctant to support such a move in the past because it would make it easier to change carriers. But with mobile phones now almost universal, and with most countries mandating portability between operators, the restrictions have become anachronistic and a restriction to market growth. GSMA is now on side, and is encouraging the development of a ‘common architecture’.
Major carriers AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone reportedly support the move. But any move away from physical SIMs will take at least 12 months, as everybody needs to agree.
So soon SIMs will go the way of corded phones, acoustic modems and electronic organisers – way stations in the relentless evolution of technology.