Your phone almost certainly has a SIM card located in a slot on the side or top of the device. It’s under a tiny hatch that you open with a special tool that came with your phone, or once you’ve lost that tool, it’s opened using a paper clip.
The SIM itself looks a lot like the memory cards in your digital camera. That should be no surprise because that’s what it is—a memory card.
Phones on GSM networks, meaning T-Mobile and AT&T in the United States as well as nearly everyone else outside the United States, have had these cards since the beginning of mobile phones. With the advent of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, they’re in virtually all phones.
SIM cards contain the basic information about your phone, including the phone number and your carrier. The memory on the card also allows you to store additional information, such as the phone numbers of your contacts.
Those cards are about to disappear if talks between Apple, Samsung and the GSMA (the international standards organization for mobile telephony) are fruitful. Right now, according to a story in the Financial Times, the groups that have to deal with the cards are ready to ditch them. This includes the mobile carriers who use them including AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, majority owner of T-Mobile.
Phone makers don’t like SIM cards because they take up increasingly valuable space inside handsets and they require failure-prone parts, such as the trays that hold the cards inside the phones. The cards and the provisions for the cards also cost money, and nobody likes that.
Carriers don’t like the cards because they are a logistical nightmare. They have a separate supply chain from the phones themselves; they have to be accounted for like money; and they’re a source of failure, which means calls to tech support and a procedure and service infrastructure that also costs money and can create problems for customers.
Customers used to like SIM cards a lot because it allowed people to have more than one phone that they could use while keeping the same number. But with the growth of smartphones and their role as fashion accessory, that’s changing.
Adding to the complexity for customers, there are now three different sizes of SIM cards, and they’re not interchangeable. While you can buy an adapter that lets you use a smaller SIM in a phone that holds a larger one, few people seem to take advantage of those.
The replacement for traditional SIM cards is what’s called an e-SIM, which is basically the circuitry of a SIM card embedded inside the phone. The e-SIM can be remotely provisioned so that a customer can change carriers or phone numbers as needed. Gone would be the ability to move your card among several phones.
Mobile Phone SIM Cards Destined for Tech Scrap Heap
For businesses, however, this likely change to e-SIMs should be welcome. For companies that provide phones for their employees, the same logistics nightmare that costs carriers time and money affects them. The need to stock and distribute SIMs would vanish. Very quickly the logistics would involve only the phones, which is complicated enough, but is only half the problem of phones plus SIMs.
The change to e-SIM cards would also ease the complexity in a BYOD environment. While the company may not own the phone or the SIM, most companies want to have some say in which devices they support. With traditional SIMs, the user could change to any device they wished, regardless of whether the company approved it. With the e-SIM, you can at least tie one phone to one SIM.
The planning for implementing the change to e-SIMs is well along. Apple has already started including soft SIMs in its latest iPad models, for example. Those soft SIMs can be provisioned for any wireless carrier that supports them, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States. A change to an e-SIM would require nothing new in terms of provisioning.
In addition, the GSMA has already developed a standard for remote provisioning of embedded SIMs used in machine-to-machine communications. M2M, which is an important part of the Internet of things, needed the remote provisioning because the components, which could include anything from traffic signals to flood monitors, made accessing the SIM very difficult.
The e-SIMs in phones and tablets would be very similar to the embedded SIMs in other devices, and they could be managed in much the same way. For your company, this has clear advantages beyond the immediately obvious. You could, for example, change the wireless carrier your company uses, while keeping the same phone numbers in an instant, giving you vastly more flexibility in managing your communications costs.
In addition, you can get some control over the theft of your devices. If they’re taken, all you have to do is disable the e-SIM and they can’t be used again, eliminating the profit factor from selling the phone or the stolen data.
For end users, the benefits are less clear. It will make things easier when the phone is put into commission because there’s one less thing to lose, but as I mentioned earlier, it also means you can’t switch phones just by transferring the SIM. But it will help make phones even smaller and thinner than they are now. Whether this will offset things depends on the end user, but for your company and its logistics, this seems like a win-win solution.