From being just a plastic card with an embedded circuit, the humble SIM card has come a long way. SIMs have become smarter over the years, with more intelligence built into them.

SIM, the acronym for Subscriber Identification Module, is an integrated circuit that stores data needed to authenticate users on mobile telephony devices. The devices range from handsets, dongles and tablets PCs.

“Apart from the verification codes, they now have enhanced security and better verification program and much higher data storage capacity,” said Rajan S. Mathews, Director-General at GSM operators’ body Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI).

The cards are now available in three formats — standard, micro and nano — and come preloaded with data and capabilities to access information from remote locations. The data capacity on a SIM has also doubled to 32 KB from the earlier 16 KB, and now operators are offering 64 KB cards too.

“Now applets (small application or a utility program) are pre-installed on the SIM and they can also be delivered over the air. These applets can trigger the download of other applications such as music and data streaming suites and self-care applications,” said Sudarshan Dharmapuri, Vice-President (product management) at IMImobile, a provider of mobile data platform and services to operators.

These self-care applications — helping a user understand the tariff plans, data usage and topping up requirements — reduce customer care costs “significantly”. “Companies are putting a lot of applications on the SIM cards to take on competition,” said Ashok Sud, Secretary-General at CDMA and new operator’s body, Association of Unified Service Providers of India.

At the operators’ end, this means an increase in SIM costs. Many telecom operators offer free SIMs (in select markets and for data users) on activation of a connection, several others don’t.

“As far as I can remember, operators were providing SIM with the start-up kit for a price. Charges were also levied for lost SIMs and for replacements,” Sud said, adding operators would have offered free SIMs to rope in subscribers under certain schemes and select circles.

The emergence of high-technology phones and surge of applications would result in further technology additions on the SIM, says COAI’s Mathews. Day-by-day, SIM cards are becoming more intelligent.

(This article was published on November 17, 2013)
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