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Just In: GSM Alliance Announces Development Of Embedded SIM Cards

Remember the hoo-ha Apple caused when it was revealed that the Cupertino company was working with a security firm to implement a new built-in, software-configurable SIM card for future iPhones? Seems like the GSM Alliance had beaten Apple to it: the Alliance has announced plans for the development of a standard embedded SIM card to make it easier for carriers to provide new features and functionality to consumers.

When it was first reported that Apple was planning to drop the SIM card from GSM-enabled phones by implementing its own proprietary embedded SIM module into future iPhones, it sparked off a huge debate. Some saw it as a convenience in which users do not have to switch out SIM cards in order to use another carrier’s service, thus negating the hassle of having to open a phone’s cover to do so.

On the other hand, many also thought of it as an artificial lockdown engineered by Apple to prevent users from migrating to a competing handset. This particular point of view was more popular considering that Apple had seemingly attempted to do something similar with the iPhone 4, which mandated the use of a micro SIM card that offered negligible space savings.

However, it appears that Apple’s move to drop the SIM card from handsets has caught the attention of the GSM Association, or GSMA. In less than a month after the news of Apple’s integrated SIM card plans became public, the GSMA has announced its plans to development an open standard for an embedded SIM card in GSM phones, and has already formed a task force especially for its development.

According to GSMA CEO Rob Conway, the decision to replace the traditional physical SIM card was highlighted by the need for greater flexibility.

The traditional SIM has been an important innovation in mobile telephony, and has provided many benefits to consumers in terms of security, portability of contacts, and ease of portability of devices across networks,” he said.

“As our industry moves from connecting phones to connecting a wide range of devices, it is apparent that the embedded SIM could deliver even greater flexibility. The embedded SIM will provide assured levels of security and portability for consumers, as well as provide additional functionality for enabling new services such as e-Wallet and NFC applications.”

The task-force will consist of major global mobile network operators such as AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom Orange, KT, NTT DOCOMO, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. They are expected to work alongside major SIM card producers to ensure compatibility.

Of course, this leaves us with the most important question about when the embedded SIM standard will be ready for mass market use. While the GSMA has not set any specific dates for the commercialization of the standard, it has in place a road map which states that the initial analysis of market requirements is expected to be completed by January 2011, approximately two months from now. Devices making use of the new embedded SIM module are also expected to retail in 2012.

Last but not least, the GSMA has also posted an assurance that the the underlying GSM network architecture remains unchanged. This means that traditional SIM card operated handsets will not be affected in any way when the new embedded SIM cards are ready for mass market adoption.

Now all that remains is to see how Apple will respond to this turn of events. Will the Cupertino company persist in the development of its own proprietary embedded SIM card? Or will it adopt the open standard currently being developed by the GSMA? One can only wait and see.

Reference: GSMA

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