The History of the SIM Card: Where It’s Going and Where It’s Been

Posted by on Jan 18, 2018 5:05:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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The SIM card’s key function is in its name: the Subscriber Identity Module. It stores information that is used to identify and authenticate users, and to connect devices to the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM). GSM has been the standard for cellular communications since the introduction of 2G, and advances in SIM card technology have followed closely behind advances in GSM.

Since its introduction in 1991, the SIM card has grown in sophistication and utility to become an integral aspect of business management. From its original credit card sized iteration to the nano-SIM-enabled IoT devices of today, companies have flocked to SIM cards to wirelessly connect their operations.

A Brief History of SIM Cards

The first SIM cards were specified by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and developed by Giesecke & Devrient, a German company that specializes in banknote securities and smart cards. The first 300 SIM cards were sold to a Finnish wireless network operator called Radiolinja, whose network hosted the world’s first GSM phone call on March 27, 1991.

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The first SIM cards looked strikingly similar to the SIM chip-enabled credit cards we have today. They came in data capacities ranging from 32 KB to 128 KB, and stored SMS messages and phone book contacts. The earliest models only could store as many as five messages and 20 contacts.

In 1996, the credit card sized SIMs, now called full-sized or 1FF, were replaced by mini-SIM cards. The mini-SIM is a familiar shape to anybody who had a cell phone in the late 90s and throughout the next decade. Every cellular device had a tray capable of fitting a mini-SIM card, and users became accustomed to switching their SIMs into new devices when it was time to upgrade.

The SIM cards’ ability to be placed into any cellular-enabled device provides historically significant advantages. When upgrading to new technology, users could seamlessly transition their identity information by simply moving their SIM card from their old device to a new one. If a device was damaged, the SIM card could be removed and placed in another device so the user could continue to connect to the GSM. This utility spurred the use of SIM cards in a wide range of devices.

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With the introduction of smartphones, the increased demand for smaller devices that packed more power inspired manufacturers to shrink the SIM card again while maintaining its versatility and processing powers. In 2010, the traditional mini-SIM was redesigned into the micro-SIM, and two years later it was redesigned again into the nano-SIM standard of today.

The Future of SIM Cards

Today, SIM cards are everywhere. With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), they have been called on to securely connect mobile phones, wireless hotspots, credit cards, and countless other devices around the world.

According to the International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA), approximately 5.4 billion SIM cards were manufactured globally in 2016, and more than 7 billion devices use SIM cards to connect to global cellular networks. For lower bandwidth machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities, 2G and 3G SIMs offer low-cost connectivity solutions with wide-ranging cellular coverage. For large data capacity and sophisticated multimedia needs, high bandwidth SIMs use 4G LTE future-proven technology to connect IoT devices in the blink of an eye.

With the deployment of 5G networks, which are expected to become the industry standard by 2020, SIM cards are evolving yet again. The GSM Association (GSMA), the organization that determines specifications for SIM card design and capability, has introduced the Embedded SIM (eSIM) card as an emergent technology for IoT demands of the future.

As the name suggests, eSIM cards are integrated permanently into a device. They are much smaller than standard nano-SIM cards, giving IoT devices room for more powerful features and enabling wearables, such as smartwatches, to use SIM technology. eSIMs are rewritable and compliant with all operators, which allows users to manage them remotely while eliminating the need for traditional removable cards. With these significant upgrades, the SIM card will be more versatile and capable than ever to power IoT solutions.

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Are you ready to empower your business using SIM technology? Order online with Neo today.

Topics: GSM, sims, Neo SIM card