back to article Size DOES matter: Nokia snubs Apple's royalty-free nano-SIM

Apple has reportedly offered to waive its patent fees in order to get its new design of SIM accepted as a standard, removing a roadblock to adoption which never really existed. The news comes from patent-watcher Florian Meuller, who claims to have seen a letter from Apple's lawyers to the European Telecommunications Standards …


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  1. stucs201

    I predict...

    ...Nokia will win, but Applie will use their design in their next phone anyway. I'd love to be wrong, but suspect I'm not.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... why do we still even need a removable physical SIM in the first place? Surely these days anything that used to be encoded on the SIM can now be stored in software. If they're worried about security, then just add a non-removable and utterly-tiny hardware module to the phone and provide an interface for it store/access secrets via appropriately encrypted channels. Or do they actually want changing a SIM to remain a fiddly process that involves ripping your phone apart, rather than just picking the new SIM from the phone's menu system?

    1. thesykes

      because it's far easier to remove a sim from one phone and put it into another, or remove a sim and replace with another network than it is trying to explain to some Indian call-centre "assistant" that you want to change the software sim on yourr phone and what network you want to change to, then call another Indian call centre for your new network and explain it all over again, only for them to cmpletely fail to communicate with each other and take weeks to sort it all out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The CDMA phones in the states

        ...don't have removable SIMs, and it's a massive pain in the ass to switch phones from what I hear.

        1. kns2c

          Re: The CDMA phones in the states

          It's easy to swap to another CDMA phone from the same carrier - can be done online or via phone. However it's pretty much impossible to get them to activate a CDMA phone from another carrier. I.e. forget about bringing a Sprint phone to Verizon, or even a Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO) phone to Sprint. But then again, we also have permanently locked GSM handsets that the carrier will refuse to unlock even after the contract runs out, and also prepaid GSM SIM cards that are locked to phones they are sold with (this was a very unpleasant surprise to me when I picked up a cheap prepaid phone+SIM at Wally World). So CDMA is not a prerequisite to being screwed by the oligopoly that we have here.

        2. Keep Refrigerated

          Re: The CDMA phones in the states

          CDMA is to wireless telephony what patents are to innovation.

          When you've grown up in a 'socialist' country and listened to the preaching of capitalism and competition from America presented in a glorious way in which it gives the consumer choice; it can come as quite a shock to see how American Telcos (along with some other industries) interpret consumer choice and competition.

      2. GrandpaChris

        far easier to remove a sim

        It maybe far easier to remove a sim than contact lens but do not drop it for another tiny little smaller sim. Call me if you can.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is size really an issue?

    "so they can squeeze more functionality into ever-smaller handsets."

    Last I checked the manufacturers were competing to produce handsets with ever LARGER screens* so surely they can find the space for a skinny SIM card?

    *The iPhone 5 is rumoured to have a 4.6" display, for example.

    1. ratfox

      Re: Is size really an issue?

      I assume they intend to fill any available space to the brink with more components, or more probably, with batteries.

      Even with bigger screens, any amount of space inside of these tiny little things must cost an arm and a leg in terms of performance.

    2. Fred Goldstein

      Re: Is size really an issue?

      I still have (as a souvenir) my old Vodafone full sized SIM card. It's about the size of a business card, and fit nicely into a Moto handset. The mini-SIM breaks off of it, to use with, say, post-2000 phones. That's plenty small.

    3. ThomH

      Re: Is size really an issue?

      Besides the obvious points about taking the iPhone rumours with a pinch of salt and the fact that smaller internal components means bigger batteries, larger screens only mean a larger top surface area. The bragging game of who can shave a further 0.2mm off the depth seems to continue apace. So there's still quite a lot of effort to get them smaller by volume.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This articlein The Verge illustrates both proposals very well.

    Nokia proposed nano-SIM is completely different from existing SIMs, looks more like a MicroSD card, while Apple's proposal simply removes the extra plastic on the existing SIM (and makes it slightly thinner)

    Connections on Apple's proposed design are also compatible with existing SIMs. NOT so on Nokia's.

    It's safe to say that while Apple's nanoSIM will easily work on non-NanoSIM mobiles with a simple bit of extra plastic - and networks can simply send one breakaway card that works on everything, Nokia's solution requires a different card if you need to use another mobile.

    So Nokia, thanks, but no thanks. I'll take a SIM that I can stick anywhere.

    I also find it amusing that Nokia complains about Apple's requirement to use of SIM tray, when Nokia's Lumia phone comes with a SIM tray!

    1. stucs201

      So they're both crap?

      So one isn't any smaller (needs a tray), and the other can't be made compatible (contacts wrong).

      If only they'd have the sense to combine the best of both: Doesn't need a tray, but can go in a tray for compatibility. Or better still realise the sim is already small and there's a benefit (*) to them all being the same size and easily interchangable and just leave things alone.

      (*) problem is the benefit is to the customer, not the manufacturer

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Time to move on from ISO 7816

      Apple's design is a very weak effort, to be honest. It doesn't really save much space (you need to place it in a tray, thus adding back the bulk you've saved) and it can jam a MicroSIM slot if you turn it through 90 degrees. That's two of the design criteria missed straight away.

      Its only saving grace is that it preserves the ISO 7816 contact layout, allowing it to be adapted up to a larger form factor.. however, the experience of putting current Micro-SIMs in phones not designed for them would suggest that this is actually more curse than blessing. There are countless SIM mechanisms, and several types of adaptor, and some phones can be permanently damaged by using an adapted Micro SIM -- particularly those using a "slide in" SIM slot.

      Either of the RIM or Nokia ideas are better, despite --or perhaps because of-- ditching the historic contact layout: the ISO 7816 contact layout is one of the factors adding to bulk in the phone as it is. It's not just the SIM card that takes room, but also the socket it fits into, and the current one requires a relatively large footprint inside the phone. Moving to a linear connector will allow cheaper, smaller sockets. The missing information on the drawings is the thickness of these SIMs -- if they're sufficiently thin, then either of these designs could be adapted up to bigger size more safely than Apple's, because they would not require the nano-SIM's contacts to be directly exposed to the host phone's socket.

      Having both Nokia and RIM designs usable without a tray also matters a lot - especially in the market beyond "smartphones". it's not just price, but also longevity of the equipment - SIM trays are fiddly things that are easily broken (just drop the phone while fumbling to swap a tiny nano-SIM). Okay, that's no big deal if you're an urban dweller less than an hour's drive from your nearest Apple store, but it becomes a lot more important if you're living in a remote part of Tanzania and you're left without a working phone.

      "I also find it amusing that Nokia complains about Apple's requirement to use of SIM tray, when Nokia's Lumia phone comes with a SIM tray!"

      ... and that SIM tray is one of the few major criticisms of the Lumia/N9 case design. Criticising an approach that you've tried, and found to be unsuitable, is a perfectly reasonable position to take.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Time to move on from ISO 7816

        @Kristian Walsh

        The only major criticism I got about the SIM tray on the Lumia is that you need to uncover the microUSB port first before removing the SIM tray. On the other hand of the biggest complaints is that Nokia decided to cover the microUSB port with such a flimsy cover. The SIM tray just suffers from being next to it.

        I can see an advantage of the nanoSIM in that you can easily fit two nanoSIMs in the same size of a miniSIM, even with a tray. This would be great for dual SIM mobiles.

        1. alexh2o

          Re: Time to move on from ISO 7816

          "Nokia decided to cover the microUSB port with such a flimsy cover."

          Never understood this argument. The cover is actually pretty robust and the Lumia I got from launch has never had a problem with all the opening it gets. Nokia I'm sure tested it like made too.

    3. kns2c

      If Apple's SIM needing a bit of plastic to work in a non-Apple phone is ok, then I don't see why Nokia couldn't come up with an adapter to make their new SIM compatible with old slots. Contacts being in different places is not a problem. Think microSD-to-SD adapter.

  5. JetSetJim

    I wonder..

    ...are there any "feature enabling" non-essential patents associated with either design?

    1. Thomas 4

      This was the first thought in my mind as well...

      Maybe we could turn into a drinking game. Every time you see something that's potentially patentable, you take a swig of your favourite tipple.

      " Apple's proposal, we're told, has the nano-SIM the same length as a micro-SIM is wide, encouraging the user to jam the wrong SIM into the slot."

      Patent Pending: Case marking showing where to insert SIM card. *drinks*

      "The addition of a loading tray, as proposed by Apple..."

      Patent Pending: Grav sled SIM card insterion method. *drinks*

      I forsee myself getting quite drunk after reading a Samsung or Apple article.

  6. heyrick Silver badge


    Maybe I'm just being a moron here, but aren't they pretty small already? It's not as if shaving off a tiny bit of plastic will allow space for a battery 20% larger. [in both of my phones, the SIM sits in a small recess underneath]

    1. JetSetJim

      Re: SIMs?

      It's just part of the move towards a sub-dermal RFID/NFC implanted SIM so that you can just wave the finger of your choice at a phone to register with it (or even just hold it). Eventually, the phone mic will be implanted in the tip of your little finger, and the speaker in the tip of your thumb. It'll revolutionise the telecoms market, I tells ya.

      "Smartphone" displays will be either woven into your clothing accessory of choice, or even tattooed on your wrist/back of the hand/buttock cheek (for widescreen viewing). The ultimate will be retinal projection, though.

    2. NogginTheNog


      When I saw the size of the micro-SIM (or whatever it's called) required for the iPhone 4S, I was astonished at how less less-big it was compared to a standard SIM? Is there really that much of a saving with them??

    3. Peter H. Coffin

      Re: SIMs?

      The whole point of these things isn't about the size, it's about granting an effective carrier lock-in for a while. Change a standard but essential bit that's supposed to be interchangeable with the world, only tell your friends what the new thing looks like, and and the wondergizmo only works with the things that your friends have had time to produce. Any competitors don't have the other thing until they've had time to license the new thing, design their prototype, build production for it and add it to their distribution channels. For those months or years before the competition has production and distribution started, there's no "wander to the shop, get new provider" option.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SIMs?

        I always thought the point is that as you got closer and closer to the size of the contacts was that you couldn't wrap the SIM in a shiv and do odd things with it (such as circumventing the carrier lock by presenting different IMSIs at different times).

        Wasn't that a known problem (for Apple) with earlier iPhones in that these things were available for ready purchase?

  7. jubtastic1


    Where are the pictures so that your loyal commenters may decide this issue to no ones satisfaction? Preferably with a breadcrumb 'shopped in for scale.

    "Aren't they small enough already?" not if Sir wants his next phone to be more svelte, the fiddlier a sim card is the more options are available for arrangement of your mobe's guts, and the better packed those guts are the more space for lithium.

    "why are we still arsing about with SIM cards anyway?" tradition, backwards compatibility, because the networks are geared up for SIM cards and can't imagine shelling out a load of cash to support something else simply because it makes things easier for their customers and suppliers.

    Somewhere down the road SIM cards will simply evaporate into software, and switching them will be as simple as a virtual toggle on a smartphone, you'll probably be swearing around with tweezers trying to insert a replacement PlanckSIM before that happens though.

    As an aside, my first SIM card was exactly the same size as a credit card, the whole thing slid into the back of the phone as it would into a wallet, which it turns out was quite appropriate.

    1. Piro Silver badge

      Re: Thoughts

      SIM cards tend to still be packaged in the exact same way - they come on a credit card sized piece of plastic that you then break away the normal SIM card from.

      It's still backwards compatible with the full-size credit card style (unless there are networks that don't do that now).

      Normal SIM cards are small enough. Stop arsing about with shit nobody wants, phone companies. Thanks.

      1. Matthew 3

        Re: Thoughts

        "It's still backwards compatible with the full-size credit card style (unless there are networks that don't do that now)."

        Somewhere in a cupboard I still have my old Motorola MR1 which takes a full credit-card-sized SIM. No need to unpick the SIM from the middle of the card. Ah, brings back happy memories of not even being able to compose those newfangled text messages.

        1. Rob Beard

          Re: Thoughts

          My first phone was a Motorolla Flare which also had a credit card sized SIM (without the cut out bit). I vaguely remember hacking the SIM to pieces to fit into a newer Sagem phone which I purchased to replace the old Moto brick. Ahh great memories. :-)

          Not so sure about these Micro SIMs though, they're like the new 5 pence pieces, too fiddly for us old people (okay technically I'm not THAT old at 33 :-D).


          1. Manu T

            Re: Thoughts

            The thing is when cellphones came to market I never understood that SIM-necessity. I mean when I switch my landline from one telco to another, it's no problem, you don't need to buy a new phone, open the street to insert a new wire or anything else. You even keep your number. Sure it takes one or 2 days. But all they have is a phonenumber.

            But with cellphones they bore us with this stupid SIM-card business. Consumers don't give a shit about this. Just issue a phone number (like with landlines) and get on with it. All this SIM-BS is useless and add nothing to the end-user nor the technology.

            I also don't get it (and I'm not the only one). These morons all have BIGGER phones (larger screens) in their 2012 line-up yet they argue over an already tiny useless piece of plastic. WTF!

  8. Ru
    IT Angle

    Is it just me,

    Who sees ETSI and reads 'Etsy'? At least I get my daily dose of surreal tech news.

  9. Arctic fox

    Well I'll be damned.

    "Apple clearly isn't proposing its design in order to make money from patents, or control the standard, but neither is Nokia.

    Unlikely as it sounds, the companies are genuinely arguing about which proposal is the best solution to making SIMs smaller, while ensuring they still fit between our stubby fingers, so they can squeeze more functionality into ever-smaller handsets."

    I had to read the paragraph three times before I could believe what I was seeing - and no I am not being sarky. It has however become unfortunately a rarity these days to see honest and constructive disagreement over the technology. It would be nice if it were a harbinger of an improvement in the currently poisonous atmosphere in the industry although I have to admit that I am not holding my breath.

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: Well I'll be damned.

      Provided you notice that even Florians deliberately garbled report establishes Apple have not made a pure unilateral offer: Apple will make them royalty free *if* the others do the same. It's 110% guaranteed there will be some patent that could be used against Apple and wisely they want protection.

      Yet again technical issues are inextricably mixed with jostling for advantage on the patent side. Or in Apples case making sure they aren't on the losing side.

      With both suggestions so fundamentally uninspired maybe it's good there's some controversy to arouse interest!

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge


      The thing with the license, is that Apple can give it away free, with any conditions they want, and it's Fair, Reasonable, etc.

      Now image that there is a clause that says the license is not valid if you are in a patent spat with Apple.... Makes it a lot easier for them; they just add "using our patented technology for the critial SIM part of a phone without a license".

      Also I am wondering how exactly they managed to patent cutting a little bit off the sides of a SIM ?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would be easier to bin SIMs completely and have the IMEI hard coded into the phone and a small area of memory for any SIM config / applications which could be sent / updated over the air.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      You'll trade a lot of freedom for that convenience

      [The IMEI is already hard-coded in the phone. I assume you meant the IMSI (Subsciber idendity).]

      Doing as you suggest puts you in the same boat as CDMA subscribers - the phone becomes less of your property, and more of the network operator's. No more unlocking at end of contract and using cheap-call SIMs, and no more buying the phone you want outright and choosing the best value service on its own merits.

      Having a separate SIM makes the relationship very clear in customer's minds: O2 SIM in Samsung Phone, versus "O2 Phone"; knowing that the service and handset are separate allows you to look for better value.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You'll trade a lot of freedom for that convenience

        Exactly - the beauty of the SIM card is that you can purchase a different one off a different carrier for next to no money to take advantage of better coverage or cheaper calls/texts/data (particularly for roaming).

        I for one would hate to see that flexibility removed, although a soft-SIM under the users control (with an independent brokerage for holding identities) does have some merits assuming one could get access to those identities easily

        1. xerocred

          Re: You'll trade a lot of freedom for that convenience

          Or if you go on holiday and want to swap SIMs to a local mobile operator.

          Or coverage is so shit at home/office you need a different operators SIM.

          Or if your battery is dead and you can to swap the SIM in your mate/wifes phone - if only to setup call divert/send text to get the important (but rare) call about that new job.

          Or if you drop and smash your iPhone you can swap the SIM out to the old Nokia you have in the bottom drawer.

          Or your job is benchmarking different operators coverage performance you have 10 SIMS and can swap them to test each with the same device...

          Or your job is testing phones and you need to test the phone on different networks...

          No, a soft SIM is a bad idea - one that Apple will try to patent, no doubt.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You'll trade a lot of freedom for that convenience

          Well, you do not necessarily need a card for that. There's the concept of remote provisioning, whereby one user could buy more profiles and have them send over the air or over cable to the handset (for instance, instead of buying a prepaid card you buy a prepaid profile) and you can switch them on the fly.

          Advantage: you can have as many profiles as you want, belonging to different MNOs/service providers all over the world, and switch them as you please, without having to switch cards you may lose.

          Disadvantage: you may have problems porting these to other handsets.

          Many MNOs are against that, as it would remove some of their power to "monetize" the customer.

          Just google for eUICC, or "embedded UICC", "remote provisioning" - you'll find a lot of information. M2M is the application that is driving this concept, as you cannot allow a network outage sever the connection from your smart energy meter to your energy provider - hence fallback profiles are necessary. Same for car2car communication (you need to be able to get coverage where at least ONE provider exists). The use cases are interesting.

    2. Manu T


      "and have the IMEI hard coded into the phone"

      I was under the assumption that IMEI-nos are already hard-coded into the phone.

      Besides it's not the IMEI-no that is important. It's the telephone number that's been assigned to you.

      All this SIM-talk is nonsens. There's no SIM's in landlines and yet you can switch from one provider to another one. So what's the big deal. As for transfering data from one phone to another, use microSD for your contact-list (or cloud) or even easier bluetooth+NFC. Make these internal contact databases standard SQL/XML for all I care. Instead of dividing things even more isn't it about time we get some real standards here? Preferably with usefull stuff instead of this BS.

  11. Marty

    mines bigger than yours.....

    the difrence in size may only be a piffling amount to you or I, but to a PCB designer who is given a set space to work within, that extra 5mm can make all the difference. it could even make the difference in how many PCB layers are needed on the board which will impact cost massively.

  12. Ilgaz

    The tray

    I instantly lost all my respect to Apple because of the cheap, plastic afterthought sim tray of iphone first Gen.

    How do I know it is cheap plastic?I know since damn thing broke to 2 pieces while removing and joined OTHER ones in service for replacement.

  13. Lockwood

    Dumb question...

    What's wrong with the normal pentagonal SIM cards?

    Aren't they still the most common form factor, small enough to not be massive, and large enough to easily spot when you drop it.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple will probably retain (not make RAND) a patent on using the nano-sim without the tray so that they can once again declare "four legs good, too legs better".

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