The SIM turns 30: more current than ever

The SIM card has completed 30 years and in his first 3 decades of life has changed face several times. Even now, after such a long journey, it is on the verge of a new revolution. The most curious aspect of the former 30 years of the SIM is precisely its ability to adapt to the changing times, always keeping its role unchanged within the world of mobile communications, a fact absolutely not discounted for any technology that is projected over such a long time frame.

The birthday took place yesterday, on 18 November, date indicating the thirtieth anniversary of commercial debut of the SIM card, which took place in 1968 in Finland . The card was made by the company Giesecke + Devrient (G + D) for the operator Radiolinja (today Elisa) and allowed for the first time to have an authentication system to the mobile network completely interchangeable between one mobile phone and another.

The debut in 1991 is however only the last of the stages that led to its commercial diffusion, since the path of the SIM card was born even in 1968, with the first patents deposited by G + D. The next milestone took place in 1989 , when the standard came officially defined , before arriving at the launch of the 1991. At the time the SIM card was the size of a credit card, however most of it was made of simple plastic material, completely superfluous for its functioning.

The heart of the SIM was – and continues to be – made up of a small chip capable of containing all the information necessary for the mobile phone to connect correctly to the telephone network and to identify the user uniquely . This has allowed the SIM to evolve over time, adapting its shape to that of increasingly compact mobile phones. Another historical passage is in fact that of 1996 , which led from traditional standard-size SIM cards to much smaller and more compact ones, the Mini-SIM .

The Mini-SIM dominated throughout the second half of the years 90 and for the first decade of 2000 ; on balance, half of the history of the SIM is occupied precisely by the period of the Mini-SIM. The change was more aesthetic than functional ( even if over the years the technology has improved thanks to increasingly complex SIMs, come on 16 K ai 128 K ), as even traditional SIMs could be cropped to fit the new format . In recent years – more precisely at the end of the years’ 90 – the standard SIM Toolkit also arrived, which allowed to expand its functionality and open the doors to mobile banking and many other services.

A curious update was what happened in the transition from Mini to Micro-SIM , which officially took place in 2010 on the occasion of the launch of the first iPad and iPhone 4 , the first smartphone to support this standard. Also in this case, full compatibility was maintained and the main difference was exclusively dimensional, however it is interesting to note that the Micro-SIM was already foreseen in 1998 and standardized in 2003, but it remained unused for 7 years. It was certainly not the luckiest format, since it had a very short life .

In fact, just 2 years passed and already in 2012 came the Nano-SIM , the SIM format that still today we all use on our smartphones. In this case, the first to introduce it was iPhone 5 and the spread of an even smaller card made it possible to simplify its use even in many devices outside the smartphone world, such as the many small devices in the IoT world. But the 2012 is not only the year of the Nano- SIM: it is also the one in which the true future of the standard has begun to lay its foundations, that is the integrated eSIM .



This is in fact the next fundamental step in the history of the SIM , its biggest transition ever. The physical body is about to be left behind and already today several smartphones and many operators are supporting this new version of the SIM. In reality, the physical component continues to exist, as it is integrated into the smartphones that support it in order to guarantee all the security criteria to be met for a crucial component like this.

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It seems that the history of the SIM can be represented as a circle destined to return to the starting point, albeit with some small differences. In fact, let’s go back to talking about devices that no longer need an external card to contain user data – as in the first mobile phones -, with the difference, however, that this time they are easily reprogrammable and move their users from one smartphone to another. it is a very simple and quick process ( but not as immediate as the SIM change ).

The diffusion of eSIMs will however be fundamental in the near future of the IoT world , as it will offer the possibility of integrating network connectivity on even more compact devices – given the absence of the Nano-SIM module – and with much lower consumption. In short, the future of the SIM is destined to be rosy for many years to come, thanks to its flexibility that allows it to adapt to changing times.


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