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Future of SIM cards

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

ARM Holdings has announced a new solution called iSIM to integrate SIM functionality into connected devices - without requiring a traditional hard SIM card or even embedded SIM (eSIM).

The new solution is aimed to not just help device makers to reduce the size of future connected devices, but also to drop their prices - ultimately expanding their use cases. However, this nowhere means that it's the time to give goodbye to traditional SIM cards as the new chip design is primarily designed for devices enabling IoT (Internet of Things) applications and isn't something specific to all smartphones or tablets.

The SIM card
SIM card sizes till now

Subscriber Identity Module or SIM card is a cutting edge technology which not only gives you ability to talk and surf internet but also a tricky procurement to eject it.

Also as we head towards the digital world with more number of connected individuals, devices and machines, The technology of SIM will become critical.

Hence giving birth to two new technologies - embedded SIM (eSIM) and integrated SIM (iSIM).

eSIM and iSIM: Drivers of innovation and opportunity

Think of eSIM and iSIM as brothers: two separate persons with many shared characteristics-but also some significant distinctions. eSIM and iSIM are mobile network authentication technologies for subscribers and devices. eSIM was the initial innovation based on GSMA's open, vendor-neutral standard. iSIM is a more latest development and has not yet been proclaimed a standard, but it already enjoys wide assistance from the sector.

Cellular network providers use SIM cards to store profiles that authenticate a device to be used on the network of the provider and provide secure identification and storage. Traditional SIM cards are all around us ; today on mobile networks there are numerous millions active. Yet despite their ubiquity, they are not without design constraints. SIM cards must be physically swapped when their host device changes networks — and who carries around a SIM removal tool anyway?

Updating millions of physical SIM cards in the Internet of things wouldn’t just be a challenge, it’d be almost impossible.

Improving on SIM card design

As the IoT market matures and millions of extra IoT devices flood the market, it becomes more hard and costly to accommodate this physical constraint. The amount of IoT devices on the market will increase to 10 billion by 2020 and 22 billion by 2025, according to market research company IoT Analytics. While swapping the SIM card of a device before traveling abroad is an inconvenience for consumers, it is weakening for a business that could easily have thousands of IoT devices across the business.

Additional detail on the challenges associated with physical SIM cards include: 

  • Size As IoT and connected consumer devices continue to shrink, a physical SIM card occupies a relatively larger proportion of a device. This creates a design challenge for device makers that may need that space for an important feature. 

  • Management Organizations that manage inventories of mobile devices must purchase, track and manage every SIM card under its control. The cost and logistical complexity of physically doing this makes SIM card technology untenable for deploying large numbers of devices—such as in industrial IoT, IoT logistics or smart cities applications.

  • Durability Physical SIM cards can be easily dislodged and damaged.

  • Theft The ability to physically remove a card from a device makes it easy to steal, which happens countless times every day, around the world.

These challenges are difficult enough with today’s existing array of smartphones, tablets, readers and other consumer mobile devices. But consider that businesses have already begun ramping up their fleets of IoT devices—embedding them into everything from automobiles to shipping pallets.

As the number of consumer smart home and business IoT applications skyrockets, it’s easy to imagine a day when enterprises manage millions of IoT devices.

iSIM’s edge: It all comes down to cost

Since iSIM devices require fewer components, they cost less to build. And as a rule, iSIM’s simpler design also leads to more reliable—and thus less costly—devices.

On a per-unit basis, iSIM’s cost advantage may be small. But when an organization purchases hundreds of thousands of IoT devices at a time, those small cost reductions can add up to massive savings.

iSIM’s cost advantage becomes more important when you consider the growing market for IoT devices—which in order to be practical, must be very small, reliable, and inexpensive.

With all that said, the mere existence of the iSIM does not really mean much, it's worth noting. It will only start with creating its way to smaller "Internet of Things" devices, and ARM will still need significant players in the smartphone sector to jump on board to launch iSIMs with upcoming mobile devices.

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