Battle Looms Over Mobile Sim Cards

21 Mar, 2012

A battle has broken out between Apple and its rival smartphone makers over the standard industry template for miniature Sim cards for the next generation of slimmer handsets.

Apple is leading a bid against Motorola Mobility – which Google is in the process of buying – BlackBerry parent Research In Motion and Nokia for its technology to be recognised as the standard for the so-called "nano-Sim", an important technical step in the miniaturisation of smartphones.

Micro-Sims are already common in the latest generation of smart devices, such as Apple's iPhone 4S and Nokia's Lumia. The nano-Sim is thinner and about a third smaller than the micro-Sim, and would allow more space for other functions.

Apple is backed by most of the European operators. The two groups have tabled proposals to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

All handset makers would be able to use the design chosen under licence but the Apple-led proposal has caused some concern among its rivals that the US group might eventually own the patents.

The Sim is crucial to the design of future handsets, with one person with knowledge of the committee saying that the Apple-backed nano-Sim could require a "drawer" to protect it. "Phones would need to be re-engineered with this in mind," the person said. Nokia said that its proposal had "significant technical advantages".

Apple has considered dropping Sims in the past, although the move has met with opposition from operators that generate revenue from selling cards.

ETSI members will decide on the proposals next week. The voting process within the independent standards body has come under scrutiny this week following a move by Apple to significantly increase its number of votes.

According to documents seen by the Financial Times, Apple has applied to become the largest voting group in the organisation having registered six European subsidiaries to become full members at a meeting in Cannes yesterday. Any subsidiary with revenues of more than €8bn can have up to 45 votes. The decision on membership has been deferred until today.

However, in a document filed on Monday, Nokia asked "whether it is right that one group of companies can obtain a high amount of votes by filing multiple membership applications". Nokia is the largest voting body with about 92 votes.

(Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw)

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