SanDisk, LG show MicroSD locked to carrier

SanDisk and LG demonstrated a MicroSD card that could be locked into use only on a specific phone or network.

SanDisk and LG Electronics on Wednesday demonstrated a specialized MicroSD card that mobile operators could load with content and bundle with a handset, then keep the subscriber from using in any other device or on another carrier's network.

The MicroSD card could be managed and even refreshed with new content over the air, said SanDisk spokesman Mike Wong. These cards could help to make a particular handset or plan more attractive and then help prevent subscriber churn by providing something the customer couldn't use elsewhere, he said. The cards might offer songs, movies, maps for GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation or applications, he said. Users could put their own content on the unused part of the card. SanDisk did not say how big the cards would be, but it currently sells MicroSD cards as large as 16GB.

Consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile phones for entertainment, and cell-phone-based navigation is an emerging trend. But the technology SanDisk and LG demonstrated may not deliver content the way today's consumers want to receive it.

In the demonstration, the MicroSD card used the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card in an LG KC910 Renoir handset to authenticate the user. If the user inserted the MicroSD card in a friend's phone, or unlocked the Renoir handset from the carrier that sold the MicroSD card and then put in a SIM card from another operator, the content on it wouldn't be accessible.

The key to the system is the MicroSD card, which fits into a standard slot, Wong said. It uses an Open Mobile Alliance standard called OMA Smart Card Web Server that would allow carriers to control the card via IP (Internet Protocol). It wasn't immediately clear whether the technology could be adapted to work with CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), which doesn't use SIM cards, he said.

SanDisk is talking with mobile operators and hopes to announce deals with some at the Mobile World Congress next month, Wong said. They will probably be carriers outside the U.S., where consumers turn to their phones more often for entertainment, he said.

However, at least in North America, the technology is coming out at a bad time, analysts said. Consumers are used to having digital content, especially music, available on any device they choose to put it on, said Charles Golvin of Forrester Research. And the trend is moving toward content distribution over the carriers' increasingly fast data networks instead of offline, he said.

"I don't see this as becoming a really significant distribution mechanism," Golvin said. The two biggest U.S. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operators, AT&T and T-Mobile USA, said they were not prepared to comment on the idea.

With content that is specifically for the phone, such as maps for use with a navigation application, SanDisk's approach might make sense, said In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee. But in the wake of recent events such as Apple's move to sell songs on iTunes without DRM (digital rights management), it isn't likely to be a big draw for other types of content, he said.

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