SIM card maker: Apple's design won standards effort

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute had earlier settled on the design for new SIM card, but didn't say whose design won. Now, at last, we know.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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SIM cards
The nano-SIM will be even smaller than the original SIM and micro-SIM shown here. Donald Bell/CNET

An Apple design did indeed prevail in a standardization struggle over a design for next-generation SIM cards, the tiny chips that let mobile phones identify themselves to wireless networks.

Apple had been duking it against Nokia, Research in Motion, and Motorola over the design of a fourth-generation, smaller SIM (subscriber identity module) card. On Friday, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) settled on the design for this fourth form factor (4FF) SIM card, but it didn't say whose design won.

In an interview today, SIM card maker Giesecke & Devrient said Apple's design, unchanged since last year, is the victor. "It's done now," said spokesman Stefan Waldenmaier.

The second-generation 2FF design still dominates in phones, though Apple moved to the 3FF "micro-SIM" with its iPad and iPhone products. The 4FF design, dubbed "nano-SIM," is functionally identical, meaning that adapters can be used to use the smaller cards in devices with older, larger slots, Waldenmaeier said.

So if the only difference is size, why such a knock-down, drag-out fight over 4FF? "I think it was political fight," he said. Apparently patent issues entered into the debate, though, too.

D&G has built prototypes of the 4FF design and will be able to ship them in volume, he said. However, he added, "G&D can not predict when the first products using these SIM cards are coming to the market."