Gemplus, Orange offer 128MB SIM card

Orange will start offering a SIM card that can store 128M bytes of data.

In a vote of confidence for new high-capacity SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards, Orange SA this month will start to offer handsets by Sagem Communication that include a Gemplus International SA SIM card capable of storing 128M bytes of data.

Many SIM cards in use today hold around 64K bytes or sometimes far less of data. But starting last year, smart card makers began talking about new SIM cards that could store large amounts of data. With the imminent launch of the Sagem phone, announced Monday, Orange SA is one of the first operators to use these high-capacity SIM cards.

In addition to storing an increased amount of data, the cards also feature a communication protocol developed by Gemplus that speeds up the transfer of data between the card and the handset. However, the protocol isn't standard so the SIM card can only be used on specially designed phones. So far, the Sagem handset will be the only one offered by Orange that can accommodate the card. In the future, Orange would like to offer more phones that are compatible with the cards, said Eric Mora, head of cards at Orange. He said that work is being done to standardize the faster communication protocol.

In addition to storing more data, these new types of SIM cards allow operators to remotely perform certain functions. With the new cards in use, operators can remotely determine the configuration of the phone, push security updates and applications to handsets and remotely disable the phone or certain capabilities, said Jon Collins, a principal analyst at Quocirca.

Using the SIM card offers a low-cost way for operators to perform such functions. Cost is increasingly important as operators try to offer more and more services to lower-end users, said Collins. "Getting people onto the network with a minimum technology cost is a big driver," he said. "It gives them the possibility to offer more capabilities to users by changing the SIM rather than changing the phone."

Many low-cost handsets don't have the memory or capability to run some of the content-heavy applications that operators wish to sell. Operators can offer customers with low-end handsets SIM cards like the one being offered by Gemplus in order to deliver the new applications. "It's a big advantage to operators trying to reach out to lower-cost demographics," Collins said.

Some mobile phones have slots for other external storage cards, allowing users to save songs, photos or other documents, but SIM card supporters say they now have an advantage. "Today if you want to have the same service you need a SIM and another card," said Christophe Dolique, vice president of strategy and marketing for Gemplus. "So we put the two types of cards in a single form factor."

Orange views these SIM cards as just one of possibly many storage options. The operator plans to start offering these cards and then introduce new security offerings and new services, said Mora. The increased storage capability on the SIM cards can initially enable applications such as new phone book applications that can store contact photos or other content, for example, he said.

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