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Size DOES matter: Nokia snubs Apple's royalty-free nano-SIM

Finns happy with their smaller package

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Apple has reportedly offered to waive its patent fees in order to get its new design of SIM accepted as a standard, removing a roadblock to adoption which never really existed.

The news comes from patent-watcher Florian Meuller, who claims to have seen a letter from Apple's lawyers to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI, the standards body responsible for defining the new SIM) offering to grant royalty-free licences to all the patents it holds covering the SIM design.

It's a generous offer, but the design itself may not perform as well as a similar gizmo by Nokia, which the Finns point out is smaller, simpler and less likely to end up jammed in an old handset.

As we reported last week, when news of the competing designs first surfaced, any patents essential to the standard would be required to be licensed under FRAND (Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatary) rules before the standard could be approved.

Patents were never more than a bump in the road in this discussion, so Apple's offer to remove that bump isn't as big a deal as it appears.

Last week we hadn't heard from Nokia, but the company has now been in touch and shared a little more about its proposals for the nano-SIM and why they're better than Apple's.

First up is the size: Apple's proposal, we're told, has the nano-SIM the same length as a micro-SIM is wide, encouraging the user to jam the wrong SIM into the slot.

The addition of a loading tray, as proposed by Apple, also means the size reduction isn't all it could be, and makes construction more complicated (moving parts always make things more expensive). That, as Nokia points out, isn't an issue for Apple's smartphone-or-no-phone policy, but would hit other companies disproportionately.

Those are all important issues, and the ETSI has been quite explicit that size reduction, minimising jam potential and time to market are the criteria by which the proposals will be judged.

But perhaps more important are the bodies making the proposals: Apple counts a handful of network operators as its allies in this, but Nokia has RIM and Motorola on its side. And both companies who know more about making phones than any network operator.

Apple clearly isn't proposing its design in order to make money from patents, or control the standard, but neither is Nokia.

Unlikely as it sounds, the companies are genuinely arguing about which proposal is the best solution to making SIMs smaller, while ensuring they still fit between our stubby fingers, so they can squeeze more functionality into ever-smaller handsets.

Apple comes at the problem from the smartphone point of view, while Nokia would argue its proposal is more universal. It will be up to ETSI to decide but thankfully it won't be patents or control freakery that drives the decision. ®

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