SIM release 7 unlocks mobile potential

New SIM card standard will overcome limitations of previous versions, presenting new opportunities for mobile operators and handset makers.

Backed by new technologies, the latest iteration of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card could prove to be the most significant yet, say industry observers.

Dubbed Release 7, the new standard has been scheduled for approval by the middle of this year by the Third-Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

The 3GPP is a collaboration established between a handful of telecommunications standards bodies such as the China Communications Standards Association, Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Its primary objective is to produce internationally applicable technical specifications and reports for 3G mobile systems and technologies.

According to analysts at Frost & Sullivan, the SIM card will continue to have a bright future as mobile operators look to boost their average revenue per user (ARPU), and data traffic is projected to grow considerably.

And with the rapid deployment of third-generation (3G) mobile networks around the globe, industry observers see huge potential for the new card.

"Release 7 will be a major milestone in the 3GPP's long-term evolution plan," Mark Chisholm, a spokesperson for NXP Semiconductors, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

According to Chisholm, the new standard targets not only improvements in efficiency and lower costs, but also in quality of services (QoS), too.

"Release 7 makes use of new spectrum opportunities and [delivers] better integration with other open standards at a reasonable [level of] terminal power consumption," he said.

From an end-user perspective, Frost & Sullivan smart cards global program manager, Anoop Ubhey, said that the increased memory on the new card will allow users of mobile phones to store and download more applications onto their devices.

From a provider point of view, Chisholm noted, important upgrades would be the inclusion of a high-speed protocol and contactless front-end interface.

"The high-speed protocol will enhance significantly the SIM card's [ability to] handle multimedia content and convergence between devices," said Chisolm, noting that SIM cards are now installed not just in phones but on a variety of other mobile devices as well, including notebook computers.

"The front-end interface will provide contactless Near Field Communication (NFC), enabling operators [to] deliver contactless services like mobile payments and ticketing [via the SIM card]," Chisholm added.

Amongst the group of companies working on Release 7 is Gemalto, which has been a strong supporter of embedding NFC applications directly in the SIM card. In 2006, the smart card maker introduced its Single Wire Protocol (SWP), which focuses on delivering secure connection between the NFC chip and SIM card via a single electrical wire.

The company said it is already working with mobile operators in the Asia-Pacific and Europe to trial SWP, but added that wide industry adoption will have to wait for the ETSI’s decision to standardize the technology.

Virginie Galindo, a technical marketing executive for Gemalto, said that along with high-speed data support and NFC, improved Voice over IP (VoIP) performance is another feature to look forward to in the upcoming release.

Another highlight in Release 7, revealed Galindo, would be the optimization for wireless technologies such as High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and the newer High Speed OFDM Packet Access (HSOPA), also known as Super 3G. While HSDPA has a theoretical download peak of 14.4Mbps, HSOPA--with its increased spectral efficiency--is capable of achieving transfer rates of up to 100Mbps.

She said: "HSOPA is the successor of HSDPA and will provide service providers an easy migration path to increasing data speed, spectral efficiency and enabling of additional functionality."

Galindo explained that with Release 7, service providers will be able to provide a more efficient network without having to disburse huge sums to deploy new infrastructure. HSOPA's extra bandwidth will also allow operators to offer quadruple play services that include voice, large data transfers and high-speed applications such as IPTV over mobile phones, she added.

When asked how Release 7's new architecture would benefit handset makers, Galindo said that the higher-speed SIM card will provide a larger memory that will enable portability of content.

"This will effectively ease the migration of handsets," she explained.

NXP's Chisholm also added that the enhanced design of the new SIM could provide handset makers with an internationally-accepted standard for hardware implementation.