I predict the death of the SIM card thanks to Apple

Apple kills the SIM card

Apple is slowly murdering the SIM card, And here is how it impacts Africa

Apple kills the SIM card
The evolution of Apple SIMs

Apple’s current move against SIM cards may have no effect to mobile phone users in Africa today, but trust me the way other manufactures adopt Apple’s ideologies — it would be no surprise to see a SIM card-less smartphone in the next few years. A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card is that little gold-plated circuit which identify you as a subscriber on a particular mobile network, it’s what you plug into phones, tablets, and basically anything else with a cellular radio. In the past, we have seen Apple trying to shrink the SIM card out of existence right from the days of the iPhone 4 in 2010.  Apple’s latest move with the new iPads is called Apple SIM, and if successful, I predict the death of the SIM card thanks to Apple. Wondering how it will affect mobile users in Africa? Read on.

Mobile Number Portability to hold Africa at ransom

In Africa, majority of the mobile networks use the GSM standard which cannot do without the SIM card unlike CDMA carriers that will start using them if they decide to switch to LTE. In the latest iPad Air 2 and mini 3, Apple has decided to start the exodus of making a reprogrammable SIM that you can switch from one mobile network to another. What does this mean? If you are an MTN customer and want to switch to Airtel, you don’t need to buy a new Airtel SIM card. In the comfort of your home you can just call Airtel and ask them to switch you to their network and within seconds you’re on a different network enjoying all the voice and data promos they have to offer. Of course the challenge of this reality in most African countries will be something we always rant about, and it’s called Mobile Number portability (MNP) which should first be implemented before Apple SIM can even become a reality. Mobile Number portability (MNP) enables mobile customers to change networks while keeping their original numbers. Which means you can use the Airtel network but using an MTN number. Countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt have adopted Mobile Number portability (MNP), the regulator here in Uganda UCC, came out to say that’s not necessary now. They gave reasons like the popular use of dual SIM phones, but most people I speak to have always suspected MTN for chocking these efforts for fear of losing their subscriber base.

UG SIMS
Mobile Network SIM packs in Uganda

But if Apple SIM becomes a reality world wide, we shall see most mobile phone networks adopt MNP by force. In it’s current state Apple SIM is still removable, and carrier-bought iPads will use regular, locked SIMs — but we all know what the future holds. I guess we should prepare for it as in a year or two, you’ll probably never see a SIM card in an Apple product again. Yes I know Android still rocks in Africa, but at the alarming rate Android phone makers adopt Apple strategies we only have to brace ourselves for a SIM-cardless future.

The History of the SIM Card

These are the four SIM card standard sizes:

  • Full-size (85.6mm × 53.98mm × 0.76 mm)
  • Mini-SIM (25mm x 15mm x 0.76mm)
  • Micro-SIM (15mm x 12mm x 0.76mm)
  • Nano-SIM (12.3mm × 8.8mm × 0.67mm)

If the history of the SIM card is anything to go by, Apple has always had the winning formula or call it the bullying formula. If you look at the original iPhone in 2007 that used the mini SIM also known as 2FF (second form factor) SIM standard: the notion of a handset with a SIM card that could only be accessed by triggering a antsy little tray using a paper clip was not cool at all. But it wont surprise you that several phone makers like Nokia and HTC have adopted the same methodology of dealing with the SIM removal.

Apple didn’t stop there, in 2010 they pushed the next SIM standard the 3FF — better known as micro-SIM — in their favor and they introduced it in the original iPad. This move led to an incompatible ecosystem of GSM devices. With anguish, mobile networks adopted Apple’s micro-SIM move, but you still needed a fragile, hard-to-find adapter to use those cards anywhere else. This took over a year for other manufacturers to duplicate. And in 2010 the iPhone 4 was the first Smartphone to use the micro-SIM.

As if that was not enough, in came the 4FF SIM card standard, also called the nano-SIM which can be found in today’s iPads and iPhones. This was a real battle with the consortium that initially planned to adopt Nokia’s solution which was even more  advanced.  The nano-SIM, was ushered into the market mere weeks later with the iPhone 5 and again Apple won. The cycle repeated it’s self, as carriers and other competing phone makers had to catch up — we can now see the nano SIM in the latest devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.

So what does this mean? Does Apple hold the industry by the horns? The answer is YES. This clearly gives Apple over-the-top powers in the industry, and we have seen all mobile phone networks bend over to accommodate Apple’s SIM card road map. The company clearly has no 5FF SIM card standard, okay let me say it has one and it’s called Apple SIM. With the Apple SIM, only a small number of carriers are on board so far in the US and UK. Given it’s history, this is a warning that the next iPhone will be using reprogrammable SIMs — and if a mobile network would like to offer that iPhone, it had better start getting ready. This will mean the death of the SIM tray as well.

The Apple SIM Implications

It’s clear Apple is preparing its future wearables like the next Apple watch to have a reprogrammable SIM that is not removable. One thing is for sure, like it or not removable SIM cards will die in the near future. And for GSM customers, this is a symbol of freedom, as you will be able to move between phones at will. But if you pull back and analyze Apple’s strategy right from the move from mini- to micro- to nano-SIM, this has caused a fragmentation in the market. Changing a SIM between Android and iOS phones can lead to provisioning issues which could leave you stuck on a particular mobile phone ecosystem. Apple SIM will mean the ease to switch between mobile networks something people in Africa are dying to do, but switching between devices not so much. Will other phone makers also have to call it Apple SIM after it’s successful on the next iPhone? Such questions are yet to be answered after my prediction comes true.

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  • It’s about time. I wonder how we got locked into this simcard business in the first place. Great post

    • roger bambino

      Well I guess the market at that time (90s) plus the technology called for the use of SIM cards.. Thanks boss