A SIM card is a wonderful piece of technology. It is a small chip that contains our phone number, stores our contact details, allows us to send SMSes and make phone calls, gives us access to the internet, and so on. It is even more amazing it can do all that being the size of a fingernail. However, the first generation of SIM cards was way bigger than the present one. It was the size of a debit/credit card. But how did the SIM card size change from huge to tiny? You will find this out in this article by describing the history of the SIM cards in detail.
Origin of SIM Cards
SIM cards were not used in mobile phones since the beginning. Even today, most CDMA mobile phones don’t use SIM cards. The first commercial cellphone in the world was Motorola DynaTac 8000X. It was released in 1983, and it didn’t require a SIM card. However, this cellphone was as big as the size of a shoe and weighed about 1 kilogram. Moreover, it was very costly, i.e., about $4,000 which in today’s terms translates to almost $10,000.
Global System for Mobile Communications, popularly known as GSM for SIM cards, was introduced in the early 1990s. It required the users to (1) own a device that could connect them to a network and (2) the way for the network provider to identify them. As such, Munich (Germany) based smart card maker Giesecke+Devrient developed a silicon integrated circuit in 1991 for Finnish mobile operator Radiolinja. Radiolinja used a module to recognize and authenticate the subscribers of their network. Hence, these cards were named Subscribers Identity Module cards, abbreviated as SIM cards.
Downsizing of SIM Cards
As we showed earlier, the first generation of SIM cards was full size—that of a debit/credit card. It was because the cell phones were big too and those cell phones didn’t have as complicated hardware integration as today’s cell phones. But with the advancement of mobile telephony technology, the SIM cards started getting smaller and smaller to make room for more sophisticated ICs (integrated circuits) on the phone’s motherboard.
The second generation of SIM cards is called Mini-SIM cards. Mini-SIM was introduced in 1996, and it was way smaller than the first generation standard SIM card. It was called the 2FF SIM card where FF stands for the form factor. This size of SIM card was perfect for basic cell phones as they were not that complicated to design.
Later on, the SIM card was downsized further in 2010, and it was the third generation of SIM cards. It was called the 3FF SIM card or the Micro SIM card. 3FF SIMs were a perfect fit for the early generation of smartphones. The iPhone 4 was the first model to use this form factor of SIM card.
The SIM card shrank further in 2012. It is called the 4FF or the Nano SIM card. This is still the most prevalent SIM card, and it is now called the standard SIM card. It is very small, almost that of a pinky fingernail. For the past 10 years, it has been reigning in the market, and it is not going to disappear anytime soon.
SIM Card in the Future
With the demand for data connectivity in our daily lives higher than ever before, manufacturers have started to embed the SIM card directly into the devices, allowing for the data connectivity plans to be directly downloaded to our smartphones. These embedded SIM cards are known as eSIMs. In the future, more and more devices are going to have them. This trend has already started with select smartphone models, generally high-end ones. The eSIM technology is in its initial stage and may take time to dominate the market. To cut a long history story short, check our study of the future of SIM cards and how life without SIM cards looks.