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GSMA opens the way for Apple SIM

Operators roll over for Jobsian tummy-tickle

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The GSMA is to create a new standard for manufacturers who don't want their products sullied by an operator's SIM, taking Apple a step closer to world domination.

Not that Apple is a member of the new Task Force which will be defining the standard for software SIMs, but the hand of Steve Jobs is clearly visible among the promises for greater flexibility and additional functionality that doing away with the removable SIM is supposed to provide.

The new Task Force will address the considerable technical difficulties involved in putting a SIM into software, and expects the first sans-SIM devices to appear in 2012. So come the next iPhone but one, the user will be able to select their network operator through iTunes, reducing the network operator to a logo on a list.

The SIM is central to GSM, and its success: a hardware token that the user can move between devices without the manufacturer's acquiescence, and remains under complete control of the network operator.

The SIM contains the user's private key which is also stored on the network's Authentication Centre, and never transmitted anywhere. The Task Force will have to create protocols by which a network operator can encrypt that private key for remote installation, a hugely complex process that would seem to add nothing to the simplicity of slotting in a new SIM.

However, the process does enable the handset manufacturer to control the distribution process, and makes the manufacturer the final arbiter of what networks are supported and what SIM functionality is permitted.

The GSMA represents operators, and so makes much of how the new standard will bring additional security and help connect cameras, MP3 players and e-Readers to the mobile networks. But it's not the removable SIM that prevents such integration; it's the cost and consumption of the radio connection.

The ability to download and install a software SIM, over some alternative network connection presumably, is arguably more complicated to implement than a physical slot. That is unless you are Apple, in which case iTunes already provides that connection and the interface through which to manage it.

When the rumours of Apple's software SIM started to surface it seemed hugely unlikely. A device without a removable SIM breaks the GSM standard so wouldn't be allowed in Europe, unless Apple somehow managed to change the rules... which is exactly what Apple has managed to do. ®

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