Nokia embraces SD memory cards

Users accustomed to removing the memory card from one of their consumer electronic devices and plugging it into another will soon be able to do the same with mobile phones from Nokia.

Under a licensing agreement announced Tuesday, the world's largest maker of mobile phones will support the use of Secure Digital (SD) memory cards in its handsets, in addition to its existing support of MultiMediaCards (MMC).

Nokia's decision to embrace the SD card is linked to the growing popularity of this type of flash memory technology in the consumer electronic sector, according to Timo Poikolainen, vice president of technology marketing at Nokia in Espoo, Finland.

"SD cards are already available today in a wide range of consumer electronic products, such as digital cameras, media players and PDAs (person digital assistants)," Poikolainen said. "Users can store almost any type of data on them, such as games, music or personal information, and use this data in multiple devices."

The SD memory card is slim and compact, designed to be moved easily among different appliances, according to Poikolainen. The card measures 24 millimeters by 32 millimeters by 2.1 millimeters. A smaller version, the miniSD card, measures 20 millimeters by 21.5 millimeters by 1.4 millimeters.

Current capacity is 1G byte but "continues to grow," Poikolainen said. The card can write and read data at a rate of up to 10M bps (bits per second).

Nokia expects to have SD-enabled handsets commercially available in the second half of 2005, according to Poikolainen.

The company's move to SD card technology doesn't mean an end to Nokia's support of MMC, Poikolainen said. "On the contrary, MMC has certain advantages over SD, so we will continue to support it in many mobile devices," he said.

One advantage is that MMC is free from licensing, so it's cheaper, according to Poikolainen. Another is that it is designed to operate at lower voltage; thus mobile devices will have longer battery life, he said. And the MMC road map now includes the development of a serial interface that will provide higher data transfer speeds.

The MMC standard, introduced in 1997, grew out of a joint development between SanDisk and Infineon Technologies. The MuliMediaCard Association, consisting of 160 members including Nokia, charges no royalties for using the standard.

Unlike MMC memory cards, SD cards feature copy protection. A copy protection mechanism is embedded in all SD cards and can be used to protect copyright content such as commercially distributed music and movie files.

It's a feature, though, that Nokia prefers not to see wired into the hardware. "DRM (Digital Rights Management) is vital to the digital media industry, Poikolainen said. "But we believe that this mechanism should be associated with the content rather than with the media card. In other words, we think a better long-term solution is for DRM to be developed independent of storage type."

Nokia and other companies are addressing DRM within the Open Mobile Alliance, a group of nearly 200 companies that are establishing mobile service specifications to ensure interoperability of services across countries, operators and mobile terminals.

Nokia, which applied for membership in the SD Card Association, aims to take up DRM as one of its first issues, according to Poikolainen. "It's difficult to say where the discussion will go, but we want to have a DRM solution that is memory-card independent," he said.

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John Blau

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