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Nokia v Apple nanoSIM format war: Victor will be named next month

4FF: Even smaller than it sounds

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Telecoms standards overlord ETSI has postponed its vote on the official tiny SIM design until the end of May - while carefully considers who it can afford to upset the least.

There are two proposals for the fourth form-factor (4FF) SIM chip, one from Nokia and one from Apple, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute had intended to discuss the matter this week.

But the normally obscure debate has become very public with both companies claiming their proposals are technically and morally superior, pushing the ETSI into publicly announcing the delay.

"Given the strong media interest, exceptionally ETSI has decided to communicate on this ongoing process," the body said in a statement, explaining that the next scheduled meeting starts on May 31 in Osaka, Japan, and that while an extraordinary meeting could be held before then it's pretty unlikely.

Nokia claims its own design is smaller, given Apple's approach uses a tray-loading mechanism which must be included in the calculations, but as neither proposal is in the public domain it's hard for anyone outside ETSI to say which is the superior design.

Nokia has threatened to withdraw its patents if the Apple design becomes the standard. Such a move by the Finnish firm would make 4FF SIMs all-but-impossible to manufacture as Nokia holds patents on communication and processing in mobile devices, which aren't related to the form factor but are essential to the operation of the SIM.

Apple has offered to chuck its patents in for free, if its design is becomes the standard, but without knowing the applicability of Apple's patents we can't tell how generous that offer is.

More interesting is Nokia's comment on the voting rights within ETSI: "We are pleased that the ETSI General Assembly has already decided to review its rules regarding granting new voting rights for members."

That appears to be a reference to Apple's attempt to sign up a handful of its operating countries as separate ETSI members, with their own voting rights, which might be enough to tip the balance. ®

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