The end of the hard SIM card

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Some companies have tried to introduce software SIM cards or, or in other words, soft SIM for mobile devices. The last attempt was with the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5, although this wasn’t the first one .But, what is a soft-SIM? How it has arisen? What are the main advantages?

Let’s review the existing terminology regarding SIM cards:

  • SIM: Subscriber Identification Module. It is the software that is included in the cards SIM and that the user of the services of a moving grid identifies.
  • UICC: Universal Integrated Circuit Card. It is the platform on which SIM, that is to say, physical card SIM runs application.
  • eUICC: embedded UICC. Integrated chip on a device and that is equivalent to functionally to a UICC.

Soft SIM card is a term that have been used in the industry of the telecommunications to denominate manifolds and distant concepts, from application SIM in surroundings hardware no dedicated specifically for it, to the applications of VoIP (like Skype and GTalk) that does not need the SIM like element authentication. In the case that occupies to us, we remained more with the extended definition: the soft-SIM is resident a software application in the hardware of the device (not to confuse with eUICC, where it is a specific chip).

various sim cardGenerally, a soft SIM card displays few disadvantages with respect to the physical SIM card used with a dedicated hardware (or UICC or eUICC):

Risks of bad interoperability: the soft SIM card would be developed by each manufacturer of devices and integrated in its own proprietary surroundings. This particularity favours the proliferation of different implementations from the soft-SIM, which adds barriers from the point of view of the interoperability (compatibility of operation between elements of different manufacturers). This would affect to the complexity and the cost of infrastructures of remote administration of the subscriptions stored in cards. This problem does not happen to present cards SIM, where the interoperability is guaranteed to the 100%, since all the UICC (and also eUICC) strictly are regulated and follow the noticeable landlords as much by the operators of movable telephony like by the standardisation organisms. In addition, also complica the maintenance of safe surroundings, since the set will be as safe as weakest of the soft-SIM implementation

Security Risks of using a Soft SIM Card, the existing applications for the UICC implement countermeasures hardware that are in microcontrollers used in the Chips of card SIM, which increases the security in these devices when they are used on a movable telephone. In cards SIM data are stored that cannot be manipulated from the terminal or which they allow to establish safe surroundings of execution of applications, thanks to the fact that they are two different physical devices. This is very excellent in cases like the payments by means of virtual credit cards, in services NFC. Those countermeasures would not be available in the soft-SIM, as they are not present in a connected standard PC to Internet where, if we want additional safety measures, we must resort to solutions like the national identity document-and an electronic card reader.

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The soft SIM card concept has not been something really new, arose for several years to provide solution to a problem within the scope of devices M2M (machine-to-machine): when one of these devices makes, for example a module for automotion or a device of e-Health, is not known when or where it is going away to activate the connexion, nor whereupon operator. In addition, in many cases, card SIM will not be easily accessible to be able to change it (we think about the motor bay of a car or about an antenna of a weather station in a mountain). In these cases, the best thing is to have a SIM that establishes a connexion to provisional network and that can be updated of remote way with the data of the operator with whom the buyer establishes the contract. And that also will have to provide a trustworthy mechanism and safe to realise an operator portability who does not need to physically change of card. Nevertheless, in this case, a SIM mounted on one eUICC is better solution; for being safer than a soft-SIM. Arrived at this point, it is important to mention that to transfer eUICC to the ecosystem of the movable telephones it would not be a good idea, since presents/displays some disadvantages against the extraíbles card use SIM. These disadvantages, that also would be applicable to the case of the soft-SIM (without dedicated hardware), are: Commercial disadvantages: the process of change of terminal becomes difficult. The user will have to hope to that their data of access are updated (the data transfer to a SIM has a bandwidth limited enough). In addition, if the SIM evolves (inclusion of NFC, major storage capacity, new profile of the operator that integrates more applet, LTE, new versions) the renovation of the park of existing SIMs is much more simple with a extraíble format of SIM (UICC) that with one integrated (eUICC).

Logistic and administrative difficulties: A new process of certification, distribution and management of the SIM becomes necessary (application) and the data stored in her, which is comparativily more complex than a mere physical card change. In addition, carried out the functional certifications and of security at the present time for the UICC, by the operators, manufacturers and organisms of standardisation (ex. GSMA, ETSI, 3GPP, SIMAlliance, GlobalPlatform) will change for the case of eUICC. And the standardisation process is still not closed, due to its enormous complexity and to the difficulties that are having to reach agreements.

Then, Why some companies are interested in promoting the use of soft SIM cards on mobile phones? The advantages that the defenders of the soft-SIM indicate they are the cost saving benefits, the space saved and the fact that the client does not have to move to a store to change of operator. But, considering that the saving of costs is minimum and that smartphones has an increasing size, most excellent for those who they support the soft-SIM is that card SIM (UICC) would stop being an element of marketing, communication and entailment of the operator with its clients.

When a user settles down a contract with a movable operator gives a card to him, that will use while its commercial relation with this operator lasts. The substitution of physical card SIM by the soft-SIM on movable telephones has like effect the desintermediación of the operator, altering the existing status quo between manufacturers of terminals, card manufacturers, operators and users of services of movable telephony: with the use of the soft-SIM the presence of the mark of the operator and the relation operator-client are reduced considerably during the process of discharge of a user, being at the expense of the manufacturer of the device. The same happens in case a user decides to behave from an operator to another one. With the physical SIM it is enough with going to another operator and changing of card. However, with the soft-SIM, the portability is at the expense of the manufacturer of the terminal that, could use it like “fidelizadora” advantage in front of its competitors or others players of the industry. In addition, the fact that the operator leads the process of card distribution SIM allows to suitably determine the proportions the necessary resources him of network for the benefit of services of communications with a guaranteed quality on watch. If the process of discharges and losses of lines hands over of the manufacturers of terminals, and frees from whom manages the network resources (the operator), can take to situations of congestion as of underutilisation of the network resources as much.

Like conclusion, I believe that the best alternative for the users of movable terminals is the extraíble physical card (UICC), by its simplicity, versatility, robustness and possibility of evolution, in the same way that eUICC is the best solution for surroundings M2M. The soft-SIM, however, is a solution that presents/displays more disadvantages than advantages, since it would suppose a barrier for the portability of services, the change of terminal, the migration of clients between operators and the correct sizing of the network, besides supposing a risk for the security. It is clear that some manufacturers of terminals could obtain a competitive advantage of the introduction of the soft-SIM but, the important thing, is to know how it affects the most important agent of the industry: the end user. He will see like an advantage the fact depend on a manufacturer of terminals instead of an operator? Or of a manufacturer of software for moving bodies? And who guaranties that its situation will improve for that reason?

 

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