back to article GSMA opens the way for Apple SIM

The GSMA is to create a new standard for manufacturers who don't want their products sullied by an operator's SIM, taking Apple a step closer to world domination. Not that Apple is a member of the new Task Force which will be defining the standard for software SIMs, but the hand of Steve Jobs is clearly visible among the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    "taking Apple a step closer to world domination."

    Sounds like someone hasn't been paying attention. Android has more marketshare than Apple (and RIM), with both of them floundering, and Nokia in trainwreck self destruct mode.

    I don't really care about Apple or RIM, they deserve everything they get, but I wish Nokia would wake up.

    1. Seanie Ryan

      tress and wood

      android is an operating system (free at that) ... they dont make any phones, so you cant compare them to phone manufacturers... Google make exactly Zero phones.

      Hardware manufacturers can , at any stage in the future, switch to a different OS if they dont like what Google does, or think they might get a better advantage by differentiating themselves by OS

      and , ignoring the over-excitment of some of the posters here, I think the whole software sim thing might bring about some totally different benefits that isnt quite so obvious yet.

      but hey, change is bad right ! lets not contemplate it and see if there might be some business angle that allow me to make money, lets just bitch and moan and hug our blankets.

      No Change, No Change , No Change, No Change...........

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad Idea

    Too much hassle. So every handset has to be connected to a PC to "download" its SIM?

    So a consumer purchases a £10 phone but needs a £££ machine to plug into to get it to work.


    1. Anton Ivanov

      Stop seeing the hand of Jobs everywhere

      Who said that it will be an iPhone in the first place. Stop seeing the hand of Steve everywhere for crying out loud.

      The first device is more likely to be an electricity meter. There the extra cost of the SIM is actually comparable to the cost of the GSM/GPRS modem.

      The engineer installing it already has a toughbook which costs a ££££ anyway.

      Nothing really daft here. In fact it makes lots of sense.

  3. Steven Knox


    the handset manufacturers have already proven their willingness to bed the network operators at the expense of consumers, how does this:

    "However, the process does enable the handset manufacturer to control the distribution process, and makes the manufacturer the final arbiter of what networks are supported and what SIM functionality is permitted."

    mean anything but less portability?

  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Oh so negative, think a bit

      Are you missing floppy drives and parallel port,s serial port and PS/2 ports? Apple removed those before most people.

      So this is the next stage, why have a SIM which just takes up space in the phone and restricts you to using one handset.

      Imagine if you could only access your email on one computer, couldn't login to MSN or Skype anywhere other than your home PC which had a hardware dongle.

      Removing the SIM might be the way to allow you to login to your phone account from anywhere.

      Sure, there's a lot to work out, security issues and so on. But I imagine these will get worked out over time.

      1. Tom 35

        You have it wrong

        It's not no sim, it's a software sim.

        Now. There is sim card that you can remove from a phone, and put in a different phone with out needing to talk to anyone. Or you can buy a sim (when travelling for example) and plug it in.

        Software sim. Now it's a bit of software, you can't just swap it yourself you need the ok from the phone maker and/or the network. You think an iTunes US account will let you install a UK PayG sim?

        It's just more lock-in.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh so negative, think a bit

        "Are you missing floppy drives and parallel port,s serial port and PS/2 ports? Apple removed those before most people."


        "So this is the next stage, why have a SIM which just takes up space in the phone and restricts you to using one handset."

        Restricts you to using one handset? Is that why there are subscriptions which feature more than one SIM card?

        "Removing the SIM might be the way to allow you to login to your phone account from anywhere."

        A lot of what you refer to as logging into your account is already virtualised and available over the Internet. In fact, the only stuff that isn't Internet protocol-based is the bit from the exchange to the telephone.

        Oh so positive, why not do some research before parroting Apple's talking points?

      3. Grifter


        "Are you missing floppy drives and parallel port,s serial port and PS/2 ports? Apple removed those before most people."

        I stopped including floppies in computers I built for myself over a decade ago, but as for the PS/2 port I'm still using it, and if there comes a time when I can't get a motherboard with one, I will indeed miss it.

        PS/2 keyboards are far superior to usb ones when it comes to gaming for example since they function by sending interrupts, whereas usb polls the hub. Not to mention that standard usb spec only allows you to hold 3 keys at the same time, which is partially solved by certain usb keyboards introducing n-key-rollover, but then they usually place that on the wasd keys only, which completely fucks the lefthanders (i.e. me).

        So yes, let PS/2 live, or I shall indeed miss it.

      4. dssf


        I wish ALL carriers here in the USA were compelled to sell SIM phones as at least 50% of their offerings. It would assist in phone number portability, knowing one could change carriers without being forced to change phones. But, yes, to adjust the SIM standards such that they decrease user flexibilty would be quite speciously daft, or daftly specious, i feel.

      5. NogginTheNog
        Thumb Down

        Apple helping who?

        "Are you missing floppy drives and parallel port,s serial port and PS/2 ports? Apple removed those before most people."

        ...and caused a lot of pain and frustration in the short term to their own customer base when they did that. Like switching CPU architectures TWICE. Like only fitting a PowerMac G4 with TWO usb ports, when it had a USB keyboard and mouse (external HD? You'll have to use firewire buddy!).

        All of these things Apple did to help their own manufacturing ends, not their users.

      6. Bod

        Quite the reverse

        "Removing the SIM might be the way to allow you to login to your phone account from anywhere"

        A physical removable SIM is transferrable to any (unlocked / SIM free) device. A software SIM is far more likely to be something you download to that device only and can't take it with you when you change device.

        And whilst people may be seemingly seeing the hand of Jobs everywhere, there's justification as in the main it's only Apple that would benefit from this. The other major manufacturers have no need for this. Apple being a relatively minor phone manufacturer needs the tie-ins with operators far more than anyone else to ensure they are going to make money, and more so when they don't favour the subsidised model of selling hardware so they need to convince the consumer to buy the phone and on top fork out for a high priced plan that Apple has a deal with. Far easier to get those deals if the consumer cannot change the SIM, use a SIM from another device, and can only pick plans approved by Apple.

    2. a53

      Apple and Jobs.

      I use Apple's products because although more expensive, they look, feel and seem to work better for me. However, I'm nobody's dog, if Apple places me in a position where if I don't like the limitation they're putting on me I'll buy someone else's product.

      I suspect enough people to influence Apple's decision making would do likewise, making your thoughts unlikely to happen.

      If you, personally, don't like the Apple experience then i'm sorry for you. But don't try to scare me and others off who currently do.

  5. Ted Treen

    FUD, supposition & rumour

    stated as fact.

    "Not that Apple is a member of the new Task Force which will be defining the standard for software SIMs, but the hand of Steve Jobs is clearly visible..."

    In the author's (overworked) imagination perhaps.

    Or is paranoia about a machiavellian über-puppet-meister the new standard?

    1. Ted Treen

      Three thumbs down, eh?

      I see some of the "Steve Jobs is the fifth horseman of the apocalypse" brigade have been taking their medication, and their nursey's let them near a 'puter...

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Software SIM. lol

    It will end in tears. One of the key security features of GSM is the SIM and secret keys it holds, this security has survived real world attacks pretty well and is still considered generally secure if implemented correctly. Put this in software and I will give it 6 months before someone breaks it for easy SIM cloning or theft by Bad Apps and other Malware.

    1. Daniel B.

      Software SIM

      Dead right on that one. I've chosen GSM over CDMA because of the damned SIM chip, because:

      - Private keys are stored inside a smartcard (SIM card) so it is extremely difficult to "clone" cellphones, which was very common during the AMPS era.

      - Ease of switching handsets by simply swapping SIM cards, useful when changing handsets or simply when my mobile's battery goes flat and I really, really have to make a call,

      - Easy to sell my old handsets because whoever buys it only has to stick a SIM on them.

      Losing the physical SIM means we lose the GSM portability, and security goes down to AMPS standards, probably worse. BAD IDEA.

      1. Lennart Sorensen

        The title is over there --> <-- The title is over there

        Never mind people were able to clone sim cards 12 years ago:

        Now being able to move sim cards is certainly the main reason I even switched to a carrier that uses GSM (rather than Qualcomm's single vendor CDMA).

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Completely correct

      You are completely correct. No software only security mechanism, least of all one from Apple, has stood the test of time.

      Hacking SIMs is not impossible, but the amount of effort and the cost of the equipment needed to do so almost certainly isn't worth it. No point spending £ks+ just to hack someone else's SIM so that you can get a few free calls against their account. That's why it hasn't happened.

      But if the effort were suddenly no harder than downloading some clever app, every nefariously minded person out there will be able to do it at no cost. So it will happen a lot.

      So will a network go along with this? It's a mighty big gamble. In effect they will be placing the security of their billing and revenue systems in the hands of someone else like Apple. Apple get that wrong, O2 (or whoever) and their customers will lose out. Where is the commercial incentive for Apple or any other manufacturer to get it right? Almost entirely non-existent.

      And what happens if your phone goes flat, breaks or crashes? Apple phones have not exactly been famously immune from such problems, nor has Android, Symbian, or anything else. So when your phone stops working, how do you get your standby emergency old handset going with your phone number? At the moment you just put the SIM in and off you go. But with a software SIM, no doubt heavily locked away and not easily accessed at the best of times, you won't be able to do that.

    3. NX1977

      re: Software SIM. lol

      People forget mobiles were once sim-less. The reason we have sim's was to stop criminals cloning phones or racking up someone else's bill.

      Going sans SIM again, when criminals aren't only smarter, have better tech and can attack handsets from anywhere on earth, won't be good.

  7. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Only benefit

    The only benefit I can see from not using a network's SIM is that you could have 2 (or more) virtual sims in a phone to allow it to register on more than 1 network / tarrif at a time.

    In theory, this leads to more consumer choice. Tell me again why we should expect this benefit from Apple.

    (Before you think I'm a MS fanboy, I have a iPod Touch and I love it, but it only does what Apple wants it to, and always will.)

  8. Nigel Whitfield.

    Bad for the punters

    I can't see any ways in which this really makes things easier for punters (bar the potential for instant gratification if you can't get to a phone shop or wait for a SIM to be posted).

    But it does potentially suit other people's agendas. As suggested, Apple can decide which networks their phone works on, and try to dictate terms to them - no more buying a SIM-free phone and connecting to whatever network you want. Other handset manufacturers could do the same too, if they felt they could drive a deal like Apple's through, and had a handset compelling enough to do it with.

    The networks, for their part, will probably be quite happy to use this technology on any exclusive phones they get, ensuring that customers won't be able to simply unlock a phone and plug in a SIM from another network. So, for example, imagine a new version of something like the Orange San-Francisco with this inside - far less chance of buying one and flogging it to someone to use on another network.

    Some jurisdictions have regulations about phones being locked; it will be interesting to see if those are applied (or extended) to devices using this technology.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dual/Triple SIM lines on your phone

    Putting the Apple-hyperventilation aside, I think this will allow multiple lines on a single phone more easily...which I guess puts the "Line 2" app out of business in a coupe yrs. You know carriers are drooling at this new revenue stream for business & intl. travel iPhone users and other smartphoners.

    Will be interesting to lose the two-factor security with physical SIMs, but now we'll see how GMSA try to tamp down hacking. (It's not like mobile calling fraud isn't happening now.)

    Btw, do most commentards think that iPhones are only available on one carrier per country, outside the US...? Duh. Think.

  10. Stuart Ball

    Apple as an MVNO

    Why not go the whole hog and do a Virgin and be an MVNO on someone elses backbone. Billing all done through ITunes...

    Allowing you to internationally roam without the need for additional hardware, sim etc.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Ki being transmitted to the SIM? Really?

    There is no reason that each of the potential operators couldn't be given access to the Ki/eKi (the Ki encrypted with a transport key that may be specific to that SIM).

    Then when it was activated for a particular operator all that would be needed is for the IMSI to be updated on the SIM card to reflect the chosen operator (the IMSI is the least secure identifier in GSM as it is already transmitted over the air in clear during the attach procedure so no great security needed here) and that operator could be given access to the transport key specific to that SIM to decrypt the eKi and then provision their network with the IMSI/Ki/MSISDN etc to allow the device to attach.

    It is, however, still much easier and well proven, to just swap SIMs around and allows the consumer far more choice.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Good plan, except that

      it would erase any guarantee of security between the handset and the chosen operator (because any telco and their dog might be able to decrypt your communications).

      Which, if you trust the telcos, is one thing.

      In the UK, if you trust UK telcos, you're an idiot.

  12. justaview


    If its software only it will be cracked and one day you will get a huge bill because someone else has just downloaded a film at your expense in a foreign country.

    The hardware key is the hardest to crack. if you want multiple accounts on one sim then a sim could be created to do that.

    When the fraud starts I wonder if the phone operators will be as good as the banks at giving your money back?

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Pubtime. Now. (that's as good a title as any)

      >he hardware key is the hardest to crack.

      Agreed. Moving from a physical-token-based security model to a software-based one is a huge step backwards. Also, obligatory initial key transmission over the internet is BAD, m'kay? (what's the bet that most of it will happen over insecure WiFi connections?). End-to-end encryption would have to be very strong indeed, as we're not talking about fast-expiring keys here, but virtually eternal ones Suddently it becomes worth throwing quite a lot of processing power at bulk captured networked data. Not to mention that even with a very strong and convoluted encryption scheme, being able to see the transaction happen already gives you valuable intel in itself. That guy at the next table who just updated his Facebook (thank you FireSheep) ? He also owns an iPhone, for which he just got a "virtual SIM". Means he's probably a foreigner, or at the very least from out of town, and won't know what to do if he's mugged in a dark alley. That's just an insta-example, I'm sure fraudsters will find better ways.

      Fraud is already happening even with the physical token model, I don't know how anyone could think that moving to a weaker model is a good idea.

      >if you want multiple accounts on one sim then a sim could be created to do that.

      Or you could own several SIM cards...

  13. ElReg!comments!Pierre
    Thumb Down

    That's, like, a really bad idea

    The only people who will benefit from that are the manufacturers with an online shop.

    You will need an expensive computer with the right software installed... so now your phone manufacturer is in position to dictate what brand of PC and OS you are allowed to own, not to mention what networks you're allowed to use. I'm guessing that they will levy a tax on the process, too. If Apple's current practice is to continue, expect a 40% increase in your phone bills. Great. All that for little to no discernible benefit for the end user.

    It will probably sell very well. And the customers will probably proudly show off that proof of their gullibility, too (sadly, that's no sarcasm).

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    or if you're going to replace the security anyway, just have a private/public key pair, phone comes up with a list of networks in range, you select one and it sends your public key to them and they give you limited access to call customer services to link the phone to your account, phone connected, no lock in, and a huge increase in security over the current hard-coded shared key model - want to change provider? go to the connect to provider menu, generate a new key pair and repeat...

  15. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Jobs Horns

    I just won't buy any phone which doesn't accept a SIM

    It's my phone, I use it on whatever network I want. So would most other people I suppose.

    However I've already decided to not buy an iPhone because you can't get at the battery and because there's no alternative to the App Store. I don't think Jobs piling on more locks will change my mind.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Great news

    Given the way Apple has now been moving to SIM-free phones and kicking the operator's butts (well as far as possible) both on service and data rates (remember how these were pre-iPhone?) why should we see this as a move to restrict consumer choice?

    This is actually great news, the little bits of plastic are complete stupidity, unnecessary, and really offer no or little extra security compared to what can be done in software.

    Soon we'll be able to travel to a foreign country and buy a local SIM over an app instead of having to figure out arcane tariffs, spend loads of time in stores only to find out the had run of of the damn things, gesture madly with salespersons trying to ask for the little cards, having to cut SIMs to microSIM size, etc.

    This opens a lot of other possibilities (like Line2, cheapest carrier routing, no contracts, etc). Most of them good for consumers but quite nightmare scenarios for those at phone companies. Lets see who wins.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      And there it begins...

      >(remember how these were pre-iPhone?)

      Yes I do. Service has degraded since then (but that was the trend anyway). Voice tariffs are unchanged (they tended to decrease before, that stopped), and sure there are more unlimited data plans but that was the trend already and prices certainly did not drop a bit (there's even been a hike on the capped plans). In my part of the world, the iPhone hasn't changed anything. Litterally.

      >Soon we'll be able to travel to a foreign country and buy a local SIM over an app

      Most probably not, no. Certainly not more easily than buying a pay-as-you-go SIM was: walk in shop. Get SIM. Start talking.

      Now you will need to lug a laptop around, find a hotspot, connect, hope that the app store of your manufacturer has a deal with a local telco, if they have deals with several of them you will need to figure your way around arcane tariffs anyway, you will probably miss out on the contractless deals as it would be unsustainable for telcos to offer them in this channel (enjoy getting a 1-year contract for your 2-weeks stay!), and will end up paying more as the app stores tend to charge extortionate rates on what you sell through them.

      But hey, it's not like I didn't predict your post a couple posts up, so that's fine by me.

  17. dervheid

    I predict

    That this will be a good thing... for the phone manufacturers/telcos. And a BAD thing for the consumer...

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Chicken and Egg?

    10. Proc ConnectShinyNewiPad()

    20. Need a connection.

    30. Need to authenticate with a mobile network operator.

    40. Need a SIM.

    50. Goto 20

    60 EndProc

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Stop being silly!

      The whole thing will of course work through sync with a laptop running iTune (or whaterver app your phone manufacturer endorse) and the OS your phone manufacturer endorse. Which means you not only have to get the "right" computer with the "right" software, but also find a hotspot (which can be a nightmare outside of cities, even in developped countries). And of course you will have much less choice in terms of operator and tariff (if any is available at all. You will also have to be in the "right" country of course.)

      That's a big step for mobility. Only backward.

  19. Tim Bates
    Thumb Down

    In phones, no thanks.

    I'll agree on the point of some commercial devices where this has merit...

    But in phones? What a pain in the arse! I swap SIMs around all the time for diagnostic reasons, or because my phone is out of action for some reason (ran over one once - just stuck the SIM in a spare).

    I seriously hope phones stick with the SIM - otherwise it's CDMA all over again...

  20. JaitcH
    Jobs Horns

    There are, already, CDMA SIMs deployed

    There are, in existence, CDMA SIMs, actually called the R-UIM (Re-Usable Identification Module) and have been available in China in 2002. There are even dual-mode double SIM/R-UIM cell hand-phones available on CN. Ordinarily the CDMA's 'SIM' data is held in memory.

    GSM is a truly international standard whereas CDMA is a system developed and promoted by Qualcomm.

    Obviously since there is only one party determining CDMA's future development path I guess Apple will be happy seeking a deal, and vice versa.

    Knowing Jobs reputation he is more than likely thinking of using these SIM variants to further exert control over his flock, just as Jim Jones did those so many years ago in British Guiana.

  21. Ramazan
    Black Helicopters

    @Ki being transmitted to the SIM? Really?

    Ki is transmitted to HLR/AuC through the operator's core network in almost the same way. Operator doesn't receive plaintext Ki - he gets Ki encrypted with A4 algorithm from SIM card manufacturer (e.g. Orga, Gemalto), and provisions A4Ki to AuC (Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei). AuC decrypts A4Ki to Ki and stores it in special kind of memory, so that when AuC board is deliberately or accidentally removed from HLR chassis, contents of this special memory is wiped out. SIM card manufacturers and AuC vendors posess The Secret Knowledge of A4 keys while GSM operator do not.

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