SIM vs. MicroSIM vs. NanoSIM: How The SIM Card Got Smaller

Mobile phones changed radically from almost all points of view in only two years of time.

From those huge and heavy mobile phones in the 90′s we now use smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 4S, with touchscreens and low weight.

However, they all have something in common, whether they were released in the 90′s or in 2012: the SIM card that helps us use the services of a mobile operator.

In the last few years, this little piece of plastic also changed and it cause spirited debates between mobile phones manufacturers first by the appearance of the microSIM format and recently by the official release of the nanoSIM format.

What are the differences between SIM, microSIM and nanoSIM ? Why were the sizes changed ? What are the advantages for users ? These are just three questions we’re going to try to answer.

What is SIM ?

SIM is an integrated circuit who’s name comes from Subscriber Identity Module and contains a unique identification number, temporary information about the mobile network, some user services ( storing contacts ) and two passwords: PIN and PUK.

The technical and physical features of a SIM card are established by ETSI ( European Telecommunications Standard Institute ).

Few are aware of the fact that the first SIM had the sizes of a bank card, precisely 85.60 x 53.98 x 0.76 mm.

Because of it’s sizes, this standard was however rapidly improved and the sizes were decreased to 25 x 15 x 0.76 mm. The new SIM card received the official name of miniSIM and, until the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010, it was the only type of SIM card used in the mobile industry, being known as SIM.

microSIM and the Apple Revolution

The mobile phones industry is characterized by a constant miniaturization of the internal components, elements that favored the release of some smartphones with compact and thin designs.

The technological progress also affected the SIM card.

Not at all surprising, Apple was the company that decided to take things forward and really did something about it, and the result was what we know today as microSIM.

From a visual point of view, the microSIM has approximately the same size as the regular SIM but the entire body measures 15 x 12 x 0.76 mm, the only common point being the thickness.

Once it was approved by ETSI, the new microSIM was integrated on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S smartphones, but it was also used by other smartphones manufacturers and right now we can find it on phones such as Galaxy S3, HTC One X, Sony Xperia S, Nokia Lumia 800 and 710, HTC One S.

Should you switch to microSIM ?

As soon as the first phones with microSIM appeared on the market users started to wonder weather they have to switch to microSIM.

The answer is pretty simple: you have to go to your mobile operator and ask to change your SIM card with a microSIM one. Normally, this should be free and the process should be very simple.

NanoSIM: The New Format

MicroSIM was not enough for the new smartphones and manufacturers started to make the card even smaller. Only two years after the appearance of the microSIM, the mobile phones industry is about to mark the release of the next version called nanoSIM.

This time Apple was not the only company involved in the process. RIM, Nokia and Motorola came with their own solutions and pressured ETSI to get their proposals approved.

All four manufacturers came with their own nanoSIM solutions, all being almost identical, with sizes of 12.3 x 8.8 x 0.67, thinner and smaller by 40% than a microSIM card.

The difference is that RIM and Motrola came with a design that requires the nanoSIM to be integrated in a mobile phone through “push-push”.

But the new format has some problems. The new nanoSIM card is so small that it can easily be damaged, even when you insert it in the phone, and this is why RIM, Motorola and Nokia said that their design is less vulnerable than the Apple design.

On June 1, ETSI announced the official adoption of the new nanoSIM format but the authority refused to reveal who’s company design it approved.

According to some ETSI sources, the company is Apple but we are only going to find this for sure when the new nanoSIM is officially presented. Even if Apple holds the patent for this new format, the company later announced that if Apple’s nanoSIM format gets approved it will be available with no licensing costs.

The first smartphone to come with the new nanoSIM will most likely be the iPhone 5, and rumor has it that it will come on September 12.

According to ETSI, nanoSIM will be compatible with SIM and microSIM, and it will have the same functionality as the two.

As it happened with microSIM cards, nanoSIM will be quickly adopted by other mobile phones manufacturers thanks to the advantages that it comes with low dimensions. It is said that the main benefits will be the possibility of integrating bigger batteries, thus increasing the autonomy of our mobile devices, but also bigger RAM memory to increase performance.

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