Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 26th Mar 2012 22:39 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless "Last week, Apple and Nokia got into a very public dust-up over the future of the SIM card - a staple in phones all around the world - thanks to a Financial Times article pointing out that the two had filed competing proposals with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for the so-called 'fourth form factor (4FF) UICC', more commonly known as the 'nano-SIM'. The nano-SIM proposals seek to standardize a new SIM card that would be even smaller than the current micro-SIM popularized by the iPhone, freeing precious extra millimeters inside the phone's chassis for more circuitry, more battery capacity, and slimmer profiles. We've now had a chance to see the original proposals for the nano-SIM standard from Apple, Nokia, and RIM, and we have a better idea on what the ETSI will be voting on later this week."
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Size matters?
by robojerk on Tue 27th Mar 2012 02:00 UTC
robojerk
Member since:
2006-01-10

If size matters matters most, I would think the Nokia design would win.

I don't know how things are done in the EU. As for licensing, I would hope something that would hope be an industry standard be free for use. Does someone get a check for every micro USB device made? I have no clue.

Edited 2012-03-27 02:00 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE: Size matters?
by Neolander on Tue 27th Mar 2012 02:20 UTC in reply to "Size matters?"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

I don't know how things are done in the EU. As for licensing, I would hope something that would hope be an industry standard be free for use. Does someone get a check for every micro USB device made? I have no clue.

Not necessarily so. PCI Express and the various VESA standards are pretty much mandatory parts of a modern computer, and you are supposed to bring quite a lot of money on the table in order to see and implement the specs, no matter if it is for non-commercial use.

I believe the spec for USB and its smaller cousins is provided free of charges though.

Edited 2012-03-27 02:22 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE: Size matters?
by shmerl on Tue 27th Mar 2012 02:39 UTC in reply to "Size matters?"
shmerl Member since:
2010-06-08

Yes, the main point of such standard is to be free and open. The rest - who cares what shape it is. Otherwise users will be paying for it with higher prices.

Edited 2012-03-27 02:40 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Size matters?
by Carewolf on Tue 27th Mar 2012 15:20 UTC in reply to "Size matters?"
Carewolf Member since:
2005-09-08

If compatibility matters the "Nokia" solution wins. Most of all because the "Nokia" solutions, is most famous for being used in iPhone4 and iPads, and can be made of a normal SIM card by cutting the edges off.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Size matters?
by Moochman on Tue 27th Mar 2012 17:07 UTC in reply to "RE: Size matters?"
Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

Did you even read TFA? It's Apple that is pushing something like the current SIM but with edges cut off, not Nokia.

Reply Score: 2

mantrik00
Member since:
2011-07-06

The Verge article has an obvious Apple bias.

1. It states Apple popularized the current SIM which was already widely used across the world much before the iPhone. (See how myths are created.)

2. Nokia's SIM is smaller in size therefore it best serves the primary objective of saving more space while playing by the rules.

3. The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.

Reply Score: 6

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

3. The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.

That could be an interesting option, but it would require quite a lot of work. The difficulty of copying a SIM card serves both carriers and their customers quite well*, while pretty much every single purely software-based DRM scheme ever devised to date has been broken in a matter of months (or maybe in a few years for the most resilient ones).

* Carriers like to sell SIMs that cost them a few cents for a hefty price, while customers like that it is hard to crack their phone account.

Edited 2012-03-27 03:08 UTC

Reply Score: 2

darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

* Carriers like to sell SIMs that cost them a few cents for a hefty price, while customers like that it is hard to crack their phone account.


You forgot that some customers have multiple phones and/or service needs when traveling and like to switch between them. Give me a swapable sim card any day rather than the internal firmware that we use on CDMA devices here in the states. Without a swapable sim of one form or another, we are completely at the mercy of the carrier if we want a different device, and there are those of us who do not buy our devices from the carrier for any number of reasons.

Reply Score: 3

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

As I understood it, the OP was thinking of a software equivalent to the SIM standard : a standard which almost all carriers, worldwide, would agree on using.

Reply Score: 1

phoenix Member since:
2005-07-11

Okay, but how does that work in the "swap SIM between phones" situation?

Reply Score: 2

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

When you want to "swap SIMs", you go in your phone's settings, network options, select the carrier which you want to connect to, the phone authenticates and is recognized by the carrier's network, regardless of other networks which you may have access to. This can theoretically work for any amount of carriers.

Edited 2012-03-27 16:05 UTC

Reply Score: 2

shmerl Member since:
2010-06-08

Just avoid using CDMA. GSM was created with interoperability in mind. Not really sure what CDMA creators had in mind, but obviously not interoperability.

Edited 2012-03-27 04:46 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Neolander,

"That could be an interesting option, but it would require quite a lot of work. The difficulty of copying a SIM card serves both carriers and their customers quite well*, while pretty much every single purely software-based DRM scheme ever devised to date has been broken in a matter of months"

As they say, DRM is fundamentally flawed and broken by design.

I agree a soft-sim would be an interesting option, a soft sim would enable one profile to get distributed across a multitude of devices without physically transferring a chip, although phone companies probably dislike this idea already.

I think the security issues could be mitigated by using PKI and still retaining one device with a real SIM card that is capable of signing soft sims. From the real sim card it would be an easy matter to authenticate other devices and list the soft sims that have been generated, even revoking them if necessary.

Reply Score: 3

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

How about a phone which would sign or encrypt wireless communications using its IMEI number ?

As long as IMEIs are guaranteed to be unique, registering a new device could be as easy as typing an IMEI on your carrier's website or flashing a barcode at the phone shop. Seems easier than handling a Nano-SIM card to me ;)

Edited 2012-03-27 03:53 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Neolander,

"How about a phone which would sign or encrypt wireless communications using its IMEI number ? As long as IMEIs are guaranteed to be unique, registering a new device could be as easy as typing an IMEI on your carrier's website or flashing a barcode at the phone shop. Seems easier than handling a Nano-SIM card to me ;) "

Once we move away from the physical authentication mechanisms like sim cards, we need to be careful how we authenticate users. A static number (or barcode even) isn't secure. We wouldn't want to enable funny tricks like registering a victim's cell phone with a fraudulent carrier such that a man in the middle attack is feasible.

I think a one time key from the carrier could be entered into the phone itself to activate it, and the carrier shouldn't care what phone the user activated with. An attacker would have a very limited window in which to use the activation code overheard at the store or on an insecure line, and even if he did the legitimate user would quickly notice that his own phone isn't working. A carrier wouldn't need to know how many networks the phone was activated on, so it could be activated on a US network and French network and have a menu option to flip between accounts. Yep, this sounds better (and cheaper) than nano-sims.

Reply Score: 3

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

You are right, this sounds like a significantly better option. What's more, carriers around here are already using one-time keys for prepaid phone credit, so that part of the infrastructure should already be there.

Edited 2012-03-27 05:53 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

I think a one time key from the carrier could be entered into the phone itself to activate it, and the carrier shouldn't care what phone the user activated with. An attacker would have a very limited window in which to use the activation code overheard at the store or on an insecure line, and even if he did the legitimate user would quickly notice that his own phone isn't working. A carrier wouldn't need to know how many networks the phone was activated on, so it could be activated on a US network and French network and have a menu option to flip between accounts. Yep, this sounds better (and cheaper) than nano-sims.


Nice idea, but you trust the carriers *way* too much. Take away the SIM card, and you can bet they'll jump right on that as a way to lock you out of the freedom to switch devices. That's how it already works in the U.S. for all CDMA phones (and some non-CDMA). And then they use that as a means to force you to pay exorbitant fees if you want to use an Android phone on their network (forcing you to pay for ridiculously priced data plans for all users of smartphones, because you have to register the phone through them and so they "know" whether it's a smartphone or not). I've no doubt that European carriers would just love to have things go that way if they could...

Edited 2012-03-27 17:16 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Moochman,

"Nice idea, but you trust the carriers *way* too much. Take away the SIM card, and you can bet they'll jump right on that as a way to lock you out of the freedom to switch devices. That's how it already works in the U.S. for all CDMA phones (and some non-CDMA)."

Actually I think you're misunderstanding the proposed idea. This hypothetical sim free standard would not even need to expose alternate activations to the carrier. Just as you can change physical SIM cards without your carrier knowing, you could change virtual SIM cards without them knowing either. In other words they'd be oblivious to alternate activations.

Of course when you buy a phone directly from the carrier, they might force the manufacturer to alter the firmware to reject alternate activations and lock it to them, which totally sucks. But you know what? That's exactly what's happening today WITH sim cards anyways, so the situation your highlighting would be no worse off than today.

And in all hypothetical likelihood this hypothetical SIM free standard would initially be incorporated into phones that support BOTH virtual and physical sim cards. They would work just like dual sim phones work today, only one or more of them are virtual.

Edit: I'm not sure if standards bodies have the power to do it, but they could require minimum user control over sim functionality in order to pass "SOFTSIM(TM)" certification. This way all "SOFTSIM" phones would be guarantied to allow the user to activate using any soft sim they please, otherwise it couldn't be labeled a SOFTSIM phone, this would be far preferable over today's SIM locked phones. All hypothetical of course.

Edited 2012-03-27 20:18 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

Of course when you buy a phone directly from the carrier, they might force the manufacturer to alter the firmware to reject alternate activations and lock it to them, which totally sucks. But you know what? That's exactly what's happening today WITH sim cards anyways, so the situation your highlighting would be no worse off than today.

Well, at least today you can generally find ways to unlock the phone. In fact I think in recent years it's become law in most countries that the carriers do this for the customers upon request. That is, of course, for phones that actually use SIM cards...

And in all hypothetical likelihood this hypothetical SIM free standard would initially be incorporated into phones that support BOTH virtual and physical sim cards. They would work just like dual sim phones work today, only one or more of them are virtual.

Edit: I'm not sure if standards bodies have the power to do it, but they could require minimum user control over sim functionality in order to pass "SOFTSIM(TM)" certification. This way all "SOFTSIM" phones would be guarantied to allow the user to activate using any soft sim they please, otherwise it couldn't be labeled a SOFTSIM phone, this would be far preferable over today's SIM locked phones. All hypothetical of course.

Sounds nice, but yes, *very* hypothetical. I just don't feel like anyone coming up with these technical specifications has the consumer at the forefront of their thoughts and deliberations... which is why I don't trust them to come up with a consumer-friendly "SIM-free" standard....

Reply Score: 2

dsmogor Member since:
2005-09-01

I used to swap IMEIs easily using a simple firmware hack in my beloved Sony J5.
So, those guarantees are a bit exaggerated.
Generally burning unique number in any device is a non insignificant factory cost that additionally complicates servicing and logistics. Given that GSM phones start from as low as single $ margins that's not an easy sell to the manufacturers.

Edited 2012-03-27 11:33 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

dsmogor,

"So, those guarantees are a bit exaggerated. Generally burning unique number in any device is a non insignificant factory cost that additionally complicates servicing and logistics. Given that GSM phones start from as low as single $ margins that's not an easy sell to the manufacturers."


I agree IMEIs are not secure. Even if my phone used a write-once flash there'd be nothing stopping another phone from copying my number. But I'm confused by your next statement, manufacturers are already implementing unique serial numbers so I'm not sure why you'd say that it's not an easy sell to the manufacturers? To my knowledge it's part of the spec.

Edited 2012-03-27 15:20 UTC

Reply Score: 2

dsmogor Member since:
2005-09-01

That's what I meant, adding unique number adds another step to production facility.
It's easier to do post-production with write-once or (be hush about it) normal flash as w-o is more expensive.

Reply Score: 2

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

I was going to ask "why not a good old PROM chip ?".

Then I thought that modern SoCs probably don't include that anymore.

Reply Score: 1

sithlord2 Member since:
2009-04-02

IMEI numbers are provided by the manufacturers, not the providers. How would the phone know which provider to connect to?

Reply Score: 1

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

My idea was that it could either be set up manually, or poll carriers until a connection is accepted.

But as others pointed out, IMEI is not something that one can rely on anyway.

Reply Score: 1

tanishaj Member since:
2010-12-22

The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.


No thank you. The best thing about GSM is that I can pluck out my SIM card and drop it in another phone. It also means that I can use my primary phone on different networks and in different countries.

Already the fact that now some of my phones have full-sized SIMs while others have micro-SIMs is a pain. Adding nano-SIMs better have a pretty big benefit for the additional incompatibilities that they add.

I use an iPhone as my primary phone but I also have Android and Windows Phone devices. Right now, I can switch my number to any one of them in a few seconds without talking to my carrier or anybody else. Please, please do not screw that up.

Reply Score: 4

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

Amen! Take away the SIM and you are taking away the last bit of freedom that consumers have from the carriers. No thank you!

Reply Score: 4

jared_wilkes Member since:
2011-04-25

The Verge article has an obvious Apple bias.

1. It states Apple popularized the current SIM which was already widely used across the world much before the iPhone. (See how myths are created.)


If Apple didn't popularize it, who did? Nokia has adopted it for the Lumias, there are a couple of Motorola and Samsung phones -- all after the iPhone. Articles about Apple's brazen adoption of the micro-SIM and the need for carriers to adapt to a form that only they were using are easy to find. (I know micro-SIM predates Apple's use, but we aren't talking invention or first use, we are talking popularization. Micro-SIMs were almost exclusively used in scenarios where it was completely soldered and not swappable prior to Apple causing carriers and other manufacturers to adopt it for consumer, swappable use.)

2. Nokia's SIM is smaller in size therefore it best serves the primary objective of saving more space while playing by the rules.


You've read the Standards RFP from ETSI and the two competing proposals? What rules do you think someone isn't playing by? It seems to me that Nokia, RIM, and Motorola are running to the press a week before a vote they are about to lose with a lot of false information and misleading comments in hopes of influencing that vote...

3. The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.


Apple spent a year trying that and instead they adopted Giesecke & Devrient design. Who's G&D? They invented the SIM more than 20 years ago. Oh, you fell for Nokia, RIM, and Motorola claiming this was Apple's proposal when in fact it is Apple acting as the strongest supporter and advocate for the design created by the inventor of SIM?

Edited 2012-03-27 05:18 UTC

Reply Score: 1

karunko Member since:
2008-10-28

"The Verge article has an obvious Apple bias.

1. It states Apple popularized the current SIM which was already widely used across the world much before the iPhone. (See how myths are created.)


If Apple didn't popularize it, who did?
"
You are right here: The Verge was indeed talking about micro-SIM, not the standard SIM we've been using for ages.

"2. Nokia's SIM is smaller in size therefore it best serves the primary objective of saving more space while playing by the rules.


You've read the Standards RFP from ETSI and the two competing proposals? What rules do you think someone isn't playing by?
"
The article clearly quotes one requirement:

"The design of the fourth UICC form factor shall prevent the 4FF from becoming jammed in a Mini-UICC reader. An example is that if the 4FF is turned 90 degrees and it fits perfectly into the Mini-UICC reader (4FF length = Mini-UICC width)."

and remarks that:

"Nokia contends that Apple's design violates that requirement, and it's easy to see why: its nano-SIM is roughly 12mm long while the existing micro-SIM is 12mm wide, giving users the opportunity to jam a nano-SIM sideways into a micro-SIM slot and get it hopelessly stuck. It's a scenario that the ETSI's documentation specifically calls out."

Also, Nokia's and RIM's are clearly smaller, so if the goal is really to shave oh-so-precious millimeters off the new SIM, why would anyone pick the largest one?

Oh, you fell for Nokia, RIM, and Motorola claiming this was Apple's proposal when in fact it is Apple acting as the strongest supporter and advocate for the design created by the inventor of SIM?

Could be, but why is Apple willing to offer its micro-SIM design royalty-free (http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/apple-to-offer-nano-sim-design...) then?


RT.

Reply Score: 3

jared_wilkes Member since:
2011-04-25

"Also, Nokia's and RIM's are clearly smaller, so if the goal is really to shave oh-so-precious millimeters off the new SIM, why would anyone pick the largest one? "

You posted a couple of comments from Nokia. This does not tell me the primary and/or only goal is to shave a full millimeters off. The questions should be: if this is what Nokia believes, why is the majority of voters at ETSI going in the other direction and why is Nokia fear mongering just a few days before the vote on a standard that has been in the works for many months?

"Could be, but why is Apple willing to offer its micro-SIM design royalty-free (http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/apple-to-offer-nano-sim-design.....) then? "

Yes. Apple has very little IP at stake and yes, they are willing to offer it royalty-free. Apple's leadership of the proposal competing against Nokia does not in the least suggest that it is exclusively Apple IP, that their proposal serves exclusively Apple, that no one is a part of the proposal but Apple.

When Apple was rebuffed in attempting to implement a virtual SIM, they jumped onboard the bandwagon of what they believed was the next best solution for a smaller physical SIM.

Reply Score: 1

dsmogor Member since:
2005-09-01

3. The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.


Not from the security standpoint. Integrated SIM will make it vulnerable to phone hacks. Hacked sim would mean an armageddon for carriers and a complete collapse of mobile payment.
Given Android and XDA pursue for sw openness or at least hack-ability that's the huge risk for carriers but also having sw-only sim would create a huge FUD argument for Apple's and MS's closed systems agains Linux based OSes in phones.

Edited 2012-03-27 11:13 UTC

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

dsmogor,

"Hacked sim would mean an armageddon for carriers and a complete collapse of mobile payment."

I think that's a bit exaggerated. For example: online banking and (US) credit cards are used by millions without any cryptographic user authentication at all, in effect, making those even less secure than a software sim. Credit cards can be worth tens of thousands of dollars and use extremely weak authentication and yet the industry hasn't suffered an armageddon. Why not?

Well, unless a user plans on committing some sort of fraud against his own account, he's got nothing to gain or loose by "hacking" into his own accounts. "Hacking" by an owner doesn't represent a loss for either the bank or the owner. With a phone, if an owner manages to hack into his own device, then so what?

The more immediate problem in my opinion is protecting devices from 3rd party attacks, and this is an area I feel none of the manufacturers have done a good job with because they depend on walled garden for security instead of developing better OS integrated security like sandboxing and virtualization.

In any case this is all moot since carriers find the sim card business profitable and that's probably the overriding factor anyways.

Reply Score: 2

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

3. The best decision would be to do away with physical chips all together and replace them with software/firmware chips so that many more type of devices can communicate.


I'm guessing you don't live in the U.S. If you did you'd already know how bad an idea this is. That's how CDMA (i.e. more than half of) phones in the U.S. are sold, and it simply sucks. It means your phone is bound to your contract, and only your provider can allow you to switch phones. It's a locked-in world with pretty much no upside for the consumer, other than saving a tiny bit of space in the phone's profile...

Reply Score: 2

SIM designs
by Neolander on Tue 27th Mar 2012 02:56 UTC
Neolander
Member since:
2010-03-08

I can't see Apple's design winning here.

It is way too symmetric, people with a slightly deficient sight probably wouldn't notice that 1.7mm x 1.7mm indent... And those who go too fast will just break the thing when trying to insert it the wrong way.

That, and you pretty much have to put your finger on the metallic pads in order to handle that thing. I know that touch is trendy and all, but as far as I know it is still not recommended to touch the electrically active parts of a microelectronic devices because of the possibility of breaking it through an electrostatic discharge.

But in the end, the whole nano-SIM idea seems flawed. Micro SDs are already so small that people have trouble handling them, and now they want us to manipulate something even smaller by hand. What's next, a pair of tweezers included with every phone plan ? SIM cards that are litteraly soldered inside of your phone as a new, extreme form of simlock ? None of the claimed benefits of the nano-SIM standard that are described in the article are convincing :
-More circuitry : I doubt they will be going very far with an extra cm². Aren't the main components of cellphones (SoC, extra RAM...) using standardized packages ?
-More battery capacity : Changes in basic phone hardware tend to cost billions in infrastructure. How much would it cost Google and Apple to optimize their software's battery consumption for a change ?
-Thinner profiles : Is the ultimate goal of smartphones to replace pocket knives ? The thinnest phones available these days already hurt the hand, and they still want to make them sharper ? Where will this marketing madness end ?

Edited 2012-03-27 03:14 UTC

Reply Score: 6

RE: SIM designs
by dvhh on Tue 27th Mar 2012 07:53 UTC in reply to "SIM designs"
dvhh Member since:
2006-03-20

But a SIM isn't supposed to be handled like MicroSD.
So at worse you handle this operation whenever you want to switch phone (which should not be that often and probably not in the middle of the street), and in the other case this task is delegated to the shop staff that sold you the phone/contract.

Anyway I agree that in most case the design is confusing, probably as confusing as an usb plug. Perhaps Apple is pushing this first as a Trojan to get rid of the SIM altogether as they planned some time ago (pitch:"Handling SIM is so impractical, put burden on the consumer who are frustrated by the nano design, cost carrier money for handling/installing them, so why not get rid of all of this and get an iPhone").

Reply Score: 4