Questions about the iPhone 5 nano-SIM

Ready for your new iPhone 5? You may have to wait a bit longer. These handsets need compatible nano-SIM cards before they can be used. Can you cut down an existing SIM card? Here's your answer.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

It seems that there's been quite a rush to pre-order the newest shiny thing to come out of Apple, the iPhone 5, with 2 million snapped up in 24 hours. Judging from my mailbox, an awful lot of you are expecting your new handsets to land on September 21.

But it seems that some of you are already anticipating a speed bump in your enjoyment of your new iPhone -- the petite nano-SIM that Apple has chosen to adopt. If you're picking up an iPhone 5 and planning on having it replace your current handset, whether that be an iPhone or not, you're going to have to wait until you get your hands on a compatible nano-SIM from your carrier, and then wait for the carrier to transfer your account from the old SIM card to the new one.

Note: Contract handsets will be supplied with SIM cards. However, Apple also sells contract free handsets in a number of territories. 

Some of you are already wondering if you can bypass this potentially tedious process and slash your existing SIM card down to size. Here's a question from today's Hardware 2.0 mailbox:

What's to stop me cutting down my existing SIM to fit into my new iPhone 5? I chopped a full-size SIM to fit into my iPhone 4 when that was released so I don't see why I can't just do the same.

Technically, yes, you can. The chip part of the SIM card is unchanged. All that's different is the plastic housing that it is embedded into. And that's the problem.

With the micro-SIM, all that was different was the height and width of the card, so you could just chop off excess plastic until it would fit. It wasn't really that tricky to do, and it wasn't long until SIM cutters hit the market that allowed you to do the job in one go.

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However, things are different with the nano-SIM. Not only is it smaller, it's also thinner. 12 percent thinner, in fact, down from 0.76 mm to 0.67 mm. It doesn't sound like a lot, but if Apple has engineered the tolerance tight on the new SIM card tray, it could be enough to jam the SIM in the handset, or even damage the SIM or the handset.

The tolerances might be loose enough to make this a moot point -- after all, I had a dual-SIM adapter installed in my iPhone 4 that fitted under the existing SIM and had a ribbon cable that squeezed between the SIM tray and slot that worked perfectly -- but at this stage we just don't know.

Some have suggested not just chopping down an existing SIM, but then sanding it down slightly to fit. Over on sister site CNET Asia, John Chan has a comprehensive how-to guide which seems easy enough to follow. If you're feeling adventurous then it's worth a go, but do bear in mind a few things.

First, if you wreak your SIM, your new handset as well as your old handset will be out of action until you get a replacement SIM. Cutting and sanding the SIM exposes it to stresses -- particularly bending -- that it's not designed to handle. Also, if you sand it too much, it's dead.

Secondly, there's also scope for cutting it wrong. Again, do that and it's not going to work.

Also, thirdly, if you're going to attempt this, make sure the SIM card is clean and free from plastic debris before inserting it into your new iPhone 5. You don't want your new handset contaminated with plastic dust.

Personally, as much as I hate waiting, I'd either wait until I get a nano-SIM, or see what result other -- more daring types -- have in cutting down SIMs. If it turns out that the sanding is unnecessary then the whole endeavor becomes a lot easier.

Another question I've being asked a lot is this one:

Do you think that there will be a shortage of nano-SIMs come September 21?

This is a tough question to answer.

I'm not aware of any carrier that has started to send nano-SIMs out to customers who have pre-ordered iPhone 5's, which means that there will be a rush for them once the handsets are out. If carriers started trickling out the new SIMs now would at least alleviate some of the rush come shipping day.

In spite of Apple's figures, we still don't know how new iPhone 5s will actually land on launch day. What we do know though is that carriers all around the world are going to need to make sure they have plenty of nano-SIMs to hand to accommodate for these new handsets, but it's quite possible that there will be shortages in some areas.

I think that it is quite possible that some people picking up an iPhone 5 on launch day won't be able to use it for a few days until they get their hands on a compatible SIM. I know it's tough having to wait, but that's how it is at times.

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