Once upon a time, in the 80s of the last century, when mobile phones were completely “non-mobile”, there were no SIM cards at all. They were replaced by subscriber identifiers assigned by the telephone at the factory. People somehow lived with such a “lifelong” connection with a service provider, used brick-sized mobile phones and were happy, not thinking about any SIM cards.
Over time, equipment manufacturers and mobile operators realized that subscriber identification is simpler and more convenient using a separate, phone-independent module. This made it possible to implement the GSM standard developed at the same time, which involved the separation of the subscriber’s identification and its means of communication. The task was decided to “entrust” just the SIM-card.
The SIM card is equipped with its own microprocessor with a clock frequency of 10 MHz and built-in memory, which stores the necessary information, including for identification of the owner, and identification data for correct operation in the network. Permanent memory consists of several areas: about half of the total volume is usually occupied by the operator’s data, one fifth is allocated to the operating system, and the rest to the user’s data: phone numbers received and sent by SMS, as well as lists of incoming and outgoing calls.
Card storage capacity varies. Usually, a modern SIM-card has a drive with a capacity from 64 to 256 KB, and yes, this end-to-end is enough to save a couple of hundred numbers and a dozen important SMS messages. Increasing the volume to 1 MB or more is an overhead activity. After all, the phone book and SMS can be stored in the memory of the device itself.
In the fall, the Chinese telecom operator China Unicom released new 5G-enabled SIM cards with 32, 64 and 128 GB of internal memory. On these new SIM cards, you can store not only contacts and SMS, but also multimedia files: photos, music and funny videos from tick-current. So yes, there would be a desire on the part of the communication provider. Volume is a matter of gain. The first SIM cards were large, but already in the mid-90s they sharply decreased in size. Instead of conventional SIM cards, mini-SIMs began to be used, which lasted until the first half of the zero, after which they decreased to the micro-SIM standard, which was replaced by nano-SIMs in 2012. The dimensions of the cards were reduced, but still required a special connector on the board, which took up space. Under the card and its connector, it was still necessary to make a special hole on the case. Because of this, it was necessary to take additional measures for moisture protection, as well as spend developers’ resources on creating a practical and wear-resistant SIM card slot.
While the mobile Internet was used only in tablet PCs and smartphones, there were no particular problems, but when the number of gadgets connected to the Internet increased hundreds and thousands of times due to the rapid development of the Internet of things, it became obvious: even these small nano-SIM cards no longer seem so comfortable. The dimensions of smart door peepholes, smart watches and other miniature gadgets made using a SIM card simply unacceptable luxury. Inside the device cases there simply wasn’t too much space for a physical card. Therefore, for these tasks, we created a miniature chip, which in its dimensions was smaller and more compact than the smallest SIM-card. Anything you can equip with such chips: alarm systems, motion sensors and other smart home modules.
The chip is called eSIM (Embedded SIM). This is a small chip soldered to the device’s motherboard already at the production stage.
The size of the eSIM chip is only 6×5 millimeters. It is soldered to the board, but it has its own drive on which various data is stored, for example, the same stored numbers of subscribers from the phone book. Information about the subscriber’s account is stored right there, including information about which provider he uses, his personal information, and tariff information.
It is not necessary to change eSIM, which is very convenient both for telecom operators and for the subscriber. Tariff changes and even the transition from operator to operator occurs through the application or, for example, by scanning a special QR code. The procedure takes a couple of minutes, eliminating the tedious trips to the office and unnecessary fuss with contracts and papers. Also, the chip may contain data of several SIM cards at once due to its larger volume in comparison with traditional SIM cards.
Do not forget about security. Regular SIM cards contain various applications, including those written in Java. And this means that, like any other application, they can be hacked along with the operating system. Physical SIM cards are not as secure as we would like, so switching to eSIM will provide additional protection for our data.
When eSIM becomes the default standard, manufacturers will be able to produce devices with a solid dust- and moisture-proof housing without any holes whatsoever. Headphones have long been wireless, so are chargers. The physical control keys on smartphones and other gadgets are successfully replaced by touch counterparts, and the gigantic volumes of internal drives and numerous cloud services completely eliminate the need for expanding memory.
Where can we meet eSIM? The chip is soldered on the boards iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, as well as on the entire line of iPhone 11. They have been sold without problems for a long time and in Russian stores. Google Pixel also has the latest versions of eSIM support. However, they are not officially sold here, and they are like the same iPhones. As for tablets, there are not very many of them yet. Among the most affordable again were gadgets from Apple. These are the new iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini. The fifth-generation Microsoft Surface Pro has a chip, which is very expensive, and it is extremely rare in Russia. ESIM is also presented in the third and fourth models of Apple watch.
ESIM technology, albeit slowly, but is being introduced, and is already available in several countries. Residents of Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany, India, Spain, Canada, the USA, Croatia and the Czech Republic can take advantage of it. In Russia, there are no laws governing the use of such SIM cards. Russian regulatory agencies are only getting ready to start implementing them, but until the necessary changes have been made to the law, there is no need to wait for the full appearance of eSIM in Russia.
The difficulty lies in a number of formulations, according to which the subscriber and the operator are required to conclude a written agreement on the provision of services providing mobile communications and the Internet. The user must visit the provider’s office with a passport, sign in documents, buy a physical SIM card. Moreover, eSIM, in fact, copies a physical SIM card, and this procedure is prohibited in the Russian Federation.
At the same time, telecom operator Tele 2 has already tested the technology in a limited mode. In some mobile phone stores, subscribers were asked to try out the technology. To register in the operator’s network, it was necessary to obtain an “electronic” SIM card by scanning a QR code. The pilot project Tele 2 eSIM showed that the new product works perfectly and is technically ready to launch in Russia.
It is hoped that all the necessary amendments to the legislation, as expected, will be adopted in 2020, and we can finally abandon the remnants of the past in the form of ordinary SIM-cards with all their shortcomings.
Photo: pixabay, habr