With the GSM mobile phones came the SIM-card (Subscriber Identity Module) 1991 turning a subscription into a tangible thing that could be removed, put into another phone and stolen. Users could bring their GSM identity to another phone without involving the operator which is very convenient. By removing the payment relationship from the subscription and adding possibilities for pre-payment a brand new and very popular type of mobile service was invented. Adding some memory available for the user made it possible to bring data, typically phone numbers, along with the SIM card to another phone.
In the early days of mobile M2M operators sent single SIM cards in envelopes which added an administrative issue to the already complicated task of deploying M2M solutions. Today we have a range of solutions to deal with SIM cards for M2M deployments. Making SIMs smaller is important in the handset market and in some specific cases we can leverage this development also in the M2M market, but most often the size doesn’t matter. With iPhone4 came the micro-SIM and next in line is nano-SIM measuring approximately 12 by 9 millimeters, 30% smaller than the micro-SIM. The thickness of the nano-SIM is reduced about 15%. The standardization of the nano-SIM is expected to be implemented through ETSI by the end of the year and the first nano-SIM phones will probably hit the market 2013. This will help phone vendors create thinner devices and free up room for additional memory and larger batteries but unless we are dealing with really small devices, this will probably not be important for the M2M market.
A much more interesting development for the M2M market is the over-the-air (OTA) SIM update, accepted by GSMA earlier this year. This will enable device manufacturers to sell devices with SIM cards included from factory and provision the subscription afterwards in a secure fashion. Apple, Google and others have been pushing in this direction for obvious reasons but some mobile operators were quite negative to the idea. Now it seems like the M2M players are making this happen first. Industry expert Northstream predicted that the SIM cards will disappear in the cloud maybe already this year. In the M2M market this would make life much easier for vendors of things with embedded M2M connectivity. The M2M connectivity could be built in at manufacturing, associated with a specific operator at the local resellers and expensive field maintenance could be avoided as well. The OTA SIM will bring a lot of transparency to the mobile industry removing practical and financial barriers thus making life easier for everyone involved.