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Weeny SIM Wi-Fi hotspot is here! But why?

Er... look how tiny!

MWC Another attempt to add value to the diminutive GSM SIM sees Sagem Orga squeezing an entire Wi-Fi hotspot into a SIM card - we're just not sure why.

SIMFi, as the product has been named, is a normal SIM card usable in any handset, but it also packs 802.11 Wi-Fi that can enable any 3G handset to operate as a hotspot sharing its connectivity with nearby Wi-Fi-enabled devices - assuming a network operator decides to deploy it.

The concept isn't particularly complicated: the SIM Toolkit allows an application running on the SIM to establish a network connection via the handset, and 802.11 can be packed into a SIM which can hide an antenna in the plastic surround and draw enough power from the handset to host the host-spot. All the SIM application has to do is bridge between the two networks, and provide some text-based user control via the standard SIM Toolkit menu commands.

Technically there are issues packing the radio inside a mobile phone, and Sagem should be congratulated for achieving that; though one has to ask if anyone really wants such a thing, and (more importantly) if any network operator will sign up to distribute it.

Western network operators have been lamentably slow in realising the potential of the SIM. In Europe only Orange has even made a token effort: trying to deploy high-capacity SIMs in France, despite the SIM manufacturers trying every trick in the book to add value to what has become a commoditised product.

We've seen gigabytes of flash memory, high-speed connections, GPS receivers, accelerometers, automated back-ups and even short-range radios all embedded in SIMs. But operators are very wary of anything which drives up the price - as one executive told your correspondent: "Add a dollar to the cost of a SIM, and you've just spent $10m."

That assumes, of course, that every SIM is upgraded, but today's yoof are much more comfortable with SIMs than the middle-aged management running our mobile networks. China Mobile's new proximity-payment systems, based on RF SIM, will be sold to customers who are expected to drop it into their handsets and remember if they've upgraded or not.

With MobilePay signed up to distribute RF SIMs in the USA, perhaps network operators will wake up to the fact that upgrading one SIM doesn't mean upgrading them all, but even if they do we're still not convinced that a Wi-Fi hotspot is the ideal application to be squeezed into a SIM. ®

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