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A subscriber identity module or subscriber identification module (SIM) is an integrated circuit that is intended to securely store the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number and its related key, which are used to identify and authenticate subscribers on mobile telephony devices (such as mobile phones and computers). It is also possible to store contacts on many SIM cards. SIM cards are always used on GSM phones; for CDMA phones, they are only needed for newer LTE-capable handsets. SIM cards can also be used in satellite phones.
The SIM circuit is part of the function of a Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) physical smart card, which is usually made of PVC with embedded contacts and semiconductors. "SIM cards" are designed to be transferable between different mobile devices. The first UICC smart cards were the size of credit and bank cards; the development of physically smaller mobile devices has prompted the development of smaller SIM cards, where the size of the plastic carrier is reduced while keeping electrical contacts the same.
A SIM card contains its unique serial number (ICCID), international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, security authentication and ciphering information, temporary information related to the local network, a list of the services the user has access to, and two passwords: a personal identification number (PIN) for ordinary use, and a personal unblocking code (PUK) for PIN unlocking.
The SIM was initially specified by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute in the specification with the number TS 11.11. This specification describes the physical and logical behaviour of the SIM. With the development of UMTS the specification work was partially transferred to 3GPP. 3GPP is now responsible for the further development of applications like SIM (TS 51.011) and USIM (TS 31.102) and ETSI for the further development of the physical card UICC.
There are three operating voltages for SIM cards: 5 V, 3 V and 1.8 V (ISO/IEC 7816-3 classes A, B and C, respectively). The operating voltage of the majority of SIM cards launched before 1998 was 5 V. SIM cards produced subsequently are compatible with 3 V and 5 V. Modern cards support 5 V, 3 V and 1.8 V.
Modern SIM cards allow applications to be loaded when the SIM is in use by the subscriber. These applications communicate with the handset or a server using SIM application toolkit, which was initially specified by 3GPP in TS 11.14 (there is an identical ETSI specification with different numbering). ETSI and 3GPP maintain the SIM specifications; the main specifications are: ETSI TS 102 223, ETSI TS 102 241, ETSI TS 102 588, and ETSI TS 131 111. SIM toolkit applications were initially written in native code using proprietary APIs. In order to allow interoperability of the applications, Java Card was taken as the solution of choice by ETSI. Additional standards and specifications of interest are maintained by Global Platform.
SIM cards store network-specific information used to authenticate and identify subscribers on the network. The most important of these are the ICCID, IMSI, Authentication Key (Ki), Local Area Identity (LAI) and Operator-Specific Emergency Number. The SIM also stores other carrier-specific data such as the SMSC (Short Message Service Center) number, Service Provider Name (SPN), Service Dialing Numbers (SDN), Advice-Of-Charge parameters and Value Added Service (VAS) applications. (Refer to GSM 11.11.)
SIM cards can come in various data capacities, from 32 KB to at least 128 KB. All allow a maximum of 250 contacts to be stored on the SIM, but while the 32 KB has room for 33 Mobile Network Codes (MNCs) or "network identifiers", the 64 KB version has room for 80 MNCs. This is used by network operators to store information on preferred networks, mostly used when the SIM is not in its home network but is roaming. The network operator that issued the SIM card can use this to have a phone connect to a preferred network, in order to make use of the best commercial agreement for the original network company instead of having to pay the network operator that the phone 'saw' first. This does not mean that a phone containing this SIM card can connect to a maximum of only 33 or 80 networks, but it means that the SIM card issuer can specify only up to that number of preferred networks; if a SIM is outside these preferred networks it will use the first or best available network.
Each SIM is internationally identified by its integrated circuit card identifier (ICCID). ICCIDs are stored in the SIM cards and are also engraved or printed on the SIM card body during a process called personalisation. The ICCID is defined by the ITU-T recommendation E.118 as the Primary Account Number. Its layout is based on ISO/IEC 7812. According to E.118, the number is up to 22 digits long, including a single check digit calculated using the Luhn algorithm. However, the GSM Phase 1 defined the ICCID length as 10 octets (20 digits) with operator-specific structure.
The number is composed of the following subparts:
Issuer identification number (IIN)
Maximum of seven digits:
Individual account identification
With the GSM Phase 1 specification using 10 octets into which ICCID is stored as packed BCD, the data field has room for 20 digits with hexadecimal digit "F" being used as filler when necessary.
In practice, this means that on GSM SIM cards there are 20-digit (19+1) and 19-digit (18+1) ICCIDs in use, depending upon the issuer. However, a single issuer always uses the same size for its ICCIDs.
To confuse matters more, SIM factories seem to have varying ways of delivering electronic copies of SIM personalization datasets. Some datasets are without the ICCID checksum digit, others are with the digit.
As required by E.118, The ITU regularly publishes a list of all internationally assigned IIN codes in its Operational Bulletins. The most recent list, as of November 2013, is in Operational Bulletin No. 1040.
SIM cards are identified on their individual operator networks by a unique International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI). Mobile network operators connect mobile phone calls and communicate with their market SIM cards using their IMSIs. The format is:
The Kni is a 128-bit value used in authenticating the SIMs on the mobile network. Each SIM holds a unique Ki assigned to it by the operator during the personalization process. The Ki is also stored in a database (termed authentication center or AuC) on the carrier's network.
The SIM card is designed not to allow the Ki to be obtained using the smart-card interface. Instead, the SIM card provides a function, Run GSM Algorithm, that allows the phone to pass data to the SIM card to be signed with the Ki. This, by design, makes usage of the SIM card mandatory unless the Ki can be extracted from the SIM card, or the carrier is willing to reveal the Ki. In practice, the GSM cryptographic algorithm for computing SRES_2 (see step 4, below) from the Ki has certain vulnerabilities that can allow the extraction of the Ki from a SIM card and the making of a duplicate SIM card.
The SIM stores network state information, which is received from the Location Area Identity (LAI). Operator networks are divided into Location Areas, each having a unique LAI number. When the device changes locations, it stores the new LAI to the SIM and sends it back to the operator network with its new location. If the device is power cycled, it will take data off the SIM, and search for the prior LAI.
Most SIM cards will orthogonally store a number of SMS messages and phone book contacts. The contacts are stored in simple "name and number" pairs: entries containing multiple phone numbers and additional phone numbers will usually not be stored on the SIM card. When a user tries to copy such entries to a SIM the handset's software will break them up into multiple entries, discarding any information that is not a phone number. The number of contacts and messages stored depends on the SIM; early models would store as few as five messages and 20 contacts while modern SIM cards can usually store over 250 contacts.
SIM cards have been made smaller over the years; functionality is independent of format. Full-size SIMs were followed by mini-SIMs, micro-SIMs, and nano-SIMs. SIMs are also made to be embedded in devices.
|SIM card||Introduced||Standard reference||Length (mm)||Width (mm)||Thickness (mm)||Volume (mm3)|
|Full-size (1FF)||1991||ISO/IEC 7810:2003, ID-1||85.60||53.98||0.76||3511.72|
|Mini-SIM (2FF)||1996||ISO/IEC 7810:2003, ID-000||25.00||15.00||0.76||285.00|
|Micro-SIM (3FF)||2003||ETSI TS 102 221 V9.0.0, Mini-UICC||15.00||12.00||0.76||136.80|
|Nano-SIM (4FF)||early 2012||ETSI TS 102 221 V11.0.0||12.30||8.80||0.67||72.52|
|Embedded-SIM||JEDEC Design Guide 4.8, SON-8||6.00||5.00||<1.0|
The full-size SIM (or 1FF, 1st form factor) was the first form factor to appear. It has the size of a credit card (85.60 mm × 53.98 mm × 0.76 mm).
The mini-SIM (or 2FF) card has the same contact arrangement as the full-size SIM card and is normally supplied within a full-size card carrier, attached by a number of linking pieces. This arrangement (defined in ISO/IEC 7810 as ID-1/000) allows such a card to be used in a device requiring a full-size card, or in a device requiring a mini-SIM card after breaking the linking pieces. Note that some suppliers, such as AT&T, refer to this form factor as a Standard SIM.
The micro-SIM (or 3FF) card has the same thickness and contact arrangements, but reduced length and width as shown in the table above.
The micro-SIM was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) along with SCP, 3GPP (UTRAN/GERAN), 3GPP2 (CDMA2000), ARIB, GSM Association (GSMA SCaG and GSMNA), GlobalPlatform, Liberty Alliance, and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) for the purpose of fitting into devices too small for a mini-SIM card.
The micro-SIM was designed for backward compatibility. The major issue for backward compatibility was the contact area of the chip. Retaining the same contact area allows the micro-SIM to be compatible with the prior, larger SIM readers through the use of plastic cutout surrounds. The SIM was also designed to run at the same speed (5 MHz) as the prior version. The same size and positions of pins resulted in numerous "How-to" tutorials and YouTube video with detailed instructions how to cut a mini-SIM card to micro-SIM size with a sharp knife or scissors.
The chairman of EP SCP, Dr. Klaus Vedder, said
Micro-sim cards were introduced by various mobile service providers for the launch of the original iPad, and later for smartphones, from April 2010. The iPhone 4 was the first smartphone to use a micro-SIM card in June 2010. Later the Samsung Galaxy S3/S4, various Nokia Lumia handsets, the Nokia N9, the Nexus 5 and the Sony Xperia followed.
The nano-SIM (or 4FF) card was introduced on 11 October 2012, when mobile service providers began selling it in various countries. The nano-SIM measures 12.3 × 8.8 × 0.67 mm and reduces the previous format to the contact area while maintaining the existing contact arrangements. A small rim of isolating material is left around the contact area to avoid short circuits with the socket. The 0.67 mm thickness of the nano-SIM is about 12% less than the 0.76 mm of its predecessor. 4FF can be put into adapters for use with devices taking 2FF or 3FF SIMs; many phone companies however do not recommend using these adapters. The iPhone 5, released in September 2012, was the first device to use a nano-SIM card followed by other handsets including the Nexus 6 and Samsung Galaxy Alpha
SIMs for M2M applications are available in a surface mount SON-8 package which may be soldered directly onto a circuit board.
The surface mount format provides the same electrical interface as the full size, 2FF and 3FF SIM cards, but is soldered to the circuit board as part of the manufacturing process. In M2M applications where there is no requirement to change the SIM card, this avoids the requirement for a connector, improving reliability and security. GSMA has been discussing the possibilities of a software based SIM card since 2010. While Motorola noted that eUICC is geared at industrial devices, Apple "disagreed that there is any statement forbidding the use of an embedded UICC in a consumer product." in 2012, The European Commission has selected the Embedded UICC format for its in-vehicle emergency call service known as eCall. All new car models in the EU will need to have one by 2015 to instantly connect the car to the emergency services in case of an accident. In Russia there is a similar plan with the ERA-GLONASS regional satellite positioning system and in Brazil with the SIMRAV anti-theft system.
In July 2013, it was revealed that Karsten Nohl, a cryptographer and security researcher from SRLabs, had discovered vulnerabilities in some SIM cards that enabled them to be hacked to provide root access. The cards affected use the Data Encryption Standard (DES) which, despite its age, is still used by some operators. Cards using the more recent Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) or Triple DES standards are not affected. Among other risks, the hack could lead to the phone being remotely cloned or allow payment credentials from the SIM to be stolen. Further details of the research were to be given at BlackHat on July 31, 2013.
In February, 2015 it was reported by The Intercept that the NSA and GCHQ had stolen the encryption keys (Ki's) used by Gemalto (the manufacturer of 2 billion SIM cards annually), enabling these intelligence agencies to monitor voice and data communications without the knowledge or approval of cellular network providers or judicial oversight. Having finished its investigation, Gemalto claimed that it has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the NSA and GCHQ carried out an operation to hack its network in 2010 and 2011, but says the number of possibly stolen keys would not have been massive. However, it would be in Gemalto's financial interest to make such a claim even if they discovered the encryption keys were in fact stolen.
When GSM was already in use, the specifications were further developed and enhanced with functionality like SMS, GPRS, etc. These development steps are referred as releases by ETSI. Within these development cycles, the SIM specification was enhanced as well: new voltage classes, formats and files were introduced. In GSM-only times, the SIM consisted of the hardware and the software. With the advent of UMTS this naming was split: the SIM was now an application and hence only software. The hardware part was called UICC. This split was necessary because UMTS introduced a new application, the Universal Subscriber Identity Module (USIM). The USIM brought, among other things, security improvements like the mutual authentication and longer encryption keys and an improved address book.
"SIM cards" in developed countries are today usually UICCs containing at least a SIM and a USIM application. This configuration is necessary because older GSM only handsets are solely compatible with the SIM [application] and some UMTS security enhancements do rely on the USIM [application].
A virtual SIM is a mobile phone number provided by a mobile network operator that does not require a SIM card to connect phone calls to a user's mobile phone.
At the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Simless, Inc., a US-based startup unveiled world's first GSM phone without a SIM card slot. The reference phone was capable of downloading multiple virtual SIM cards over-the-air. 
The use of SIM cards is mandatory in GSM devices.
The satellite phone networks Iridium, Thuraya and Inmarsat's BGAN also use SIM cards. Sometimes, these SIM cards work in regular GSM phones and also allow GSM customers to roam in satellite networks by using their own SIM card in a satellite phone.
Japan's 2G PDC system (which was shut down in 2012; SoftBank Mobile has already shut down PDC from March 31, 2010) also specifies a SIM, but this has never been implemented commercially. The specification of the interface between the Mobile Equipment and the SIM is given in the RCR STD-27 annex 4. The Subscriber Identity Module Expert Group was a committee of specialists assembled by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to draw up the specifications (GSM 11.11) for interfacing between smart cards and mobile telephones. In 1994, the name SIMEG was changed to SMG9.
Japan's current and next generation cellular systems are based on W-CDMA (UMTS) and CDMA2000 and all use SIM cards. However, Japanese CDMA2000-based phones are locked to the R-UIM they are associated with and thus, the cards are not interchangeable with other Japanese CDMA2000 handsets (though they may be inserted into GSM/WCDMA handsets for roaming purposes outside Japan).
CDMA-based devices originally did not use a removable card, and the service for these phones bound to a unique identifier contained in the handset itself. This is most prevalent in operators in the Americas. The first publication of the TIA-820 standard (also known as 3GPP2 C.S0023) in 2000 defined the Removable User Identity Module (R-UIM). Card-based CDMA devices are most prevalent in Asia.
SIM card for Thuraya satellite phone
UMTS modem with SIM card
Chunghwa Telecom's LTE Card
China Mobile's LTE SIM card
H2O Wireless prepaid SIM card
Hotlink (Maxis) Nano SIM card
Dual SIM slots as shown on a Lenovo A369i.
The SIM card introduced a new and significant business opportunity for MVNOs — mobile virtual network operators — who lease capacity from one of the network operators rather than owning or operating a cellular telecoms network, and only provide a SIM card to their customers. MVNOs first appeared in Denmark, Hong Kong, Finland and the UK. Today they exist in over 50 countries, including most of Europe, United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and parts of Asia, and account for approximately 10% of all mobile phone subscribers around the world.
On some networks, the mobile phone is locked to its carrier SIM card, meaning that the phone only works with SIM cards from the specific carrier. This is more common in markets where mobile phones are heavily subsidised by the carriers, and the business model depends on the customer staying with the service provider for a minimum term (typically 12, 18 or 24 months). SIM cards that are issued by providers with an associated contract are called SIM only deals. Common examples are the GSM networks in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and Poland. Many businesses offer the ability to remove the SIM lock from a phone, effectively making it possible to then use the phone on any network by inserting a different SIM card. Mostly, GSM and 3G mobile handsets can easily be unlocked and used on any suitable network with any SIM card.
In countries where the phones are not subsidised, e.g., India, Israel and Belgium, all phones are unlocked. Where the phone is not locked to its SIM card, the users can easily switch networks by simply replacing the SIM card of one network with that of another while using only one phone. This is typical, for example, among users who may want to optimise their carrier's traffic by different tariffs to different friends on different networks, or when traveling internationally.
Devices with two SIM slots are known as dual SIMs. Dual-SIM mobile phones usually come with two slots for SIMs, one behind the battery and another on the side of the phone, though in some devices both slots can be found on the battery tray, or on the side of the phone if the device does not have a removable battery. In the Western world dual-SIM devices are less common, and even less so with multiple-SIM phones, but are commonplace in developing markets such as in Africa, East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, where billing rates and variable network coverage make it desirable for consumers to use multiple SIMs from competing networks.
SCP is co-operating on both technical and service aspects with a number of other committees both within and outside the telecommunications sector.
One manufacturer stated that it may be difficult to meeting ISO mechanical standards for a combined ID-1/micro-SIM card.
The work item for the so-called Third Form Factor, "3FF", was agreed, after intensive discussions, at the SCP meeting held last week in London.[dead link]