MULTIMEDIA POWER: THE ARRIVAL OF THE SUPER-SIM CARD

More and better content for mobile phones places new demands on onboard memory – and has created new markets for memory cards.
But there’s real mileage in the humble SIM card too, says Ira Cohen.

The use of mobile services and devices has experienced phenomenal, even radical growth. Mobile handsets and digital music players can be found almost everywhere and all kinds of compelling content and applications are being brought to market. High-speed wideband networks are truly ready to channel this content to users, the most passionate of whom are today’s teens. Having grown up, literally, with mobile phones in their hands, this demographic naturally view their phones as personal extensions of themselves – something through which to help define their personal identity.   

A recent survey by French operators presented at 3GSM backs up this trend, with six of out ten teens confirming that they personalise their handsets through content delivered to their handsets over their network.
Meeting these personal storage demands requires much more memory. In fact, according to Strategy Analytics, the worldwide flash memory market grew last year by 40% to almost $10.5 billion; this indicates that consumers (and therefore handsets) are hungry for memory. Moreover, many applications also require crypto engines to keep them secure and guarantee application owners their fair share of revenues.
One way to keep users and content owners satisfied is to build secure, high-density memory, known as embedded flash drives, into the mobiles. Flash card manufacturers are also rising to the challenge, offering higher density cards in ever smaller sizes. This enables users to add as much extra personal storage to their phones’ built-in memory as they need in order to support their individual multimedia habits.
But what about the humble SIM card, the network operator’s only on-handset real estate? Are operators forever doomed to sit on the sidelines watching the multimedia age pass them by? Is there no way to optimise the SIM to allow it to offer the memory and interfaces that multimedia content and applications seek (and in so doing, making redundant the memory cards that currently sit alongside the SIM card and require additional slots to be designed into already resource-constrained devices)?
Well, the good news for the subscriber, operator and handset vendor alike is that the scenario painted above is becoming a reality.
Since the dawn of the GSM standard 15 years ago, SIM cards have retained the same limited role as secure authentication devices for access to network services. With the average SIM card today providing only 64Kbytes of memory, network operators have virtually no possibility to provide subscribers with the high-density applications and content being demanded. Subscribers, for their part, are satisfying their multimedia cravings elsewhere, unable to take advantage of their network’s channels, resources and pre-existing knowledge of their personal habits and tastes.
 

"The information we store in our mobiles is growing at an amazing rate."

However, with advances in flash technology and processes, technology barriers have been shattered. Network operators are now gearing up to offer up to 8,000 times the amount of memory – 512Mbytes as compared with 64Kbytes – in each SIM card. These new MegaSIM cards, as they have been defined by the industry, have the scalable memory, speed and crypto security to support DRM schemes and the computing power to power multimedia content.
From the network operators’ perspective, MegaSIM cards will help boost their revenues through increased provision of services, applications and increased differentiation as set against commoditised voice and text services. What’s more, content owners will be assured of their fair share of profits, and subscribers, each seeking different utilities and economies, will intuitively receive the content services they are demanding.
A real example of how this will benefit the mobile experience can be seen through the anticipated roll out of personal video recorder (PVR) services by mobile network operators. When network operators begin to provide PVR services, subscribers will define their TV content and preferred viewing time. Network operators will then store programming on a dedicated server and send it over the air to their subscribers, armed with MegaSIM-enabled handsets, prior to the designated viewing time, ready for viewing. Yet since the programming can be stored within a secure MegaSIM environment, the digital rights keys of the programming will be stored with the content, ensuring proper and authorised distribution, streamlining the whole process.
This is just one of many applications that high-density SIMs can enable. Three major categories stand to benefit.
Firstly there is the enhanced SIM applications, such as storing large amounts of contact information for easy transfer from one phone to another.
Secondly the improved management of the handset environment, such as the storing of the network operator’s configuration files, GUI, look and feel, and unique applications regardless of the brand or mobile phone model used. Finally, it allows for content and service providers to distribute pre-loaded content, digital media files and applications, enabling subscribers to store downloaded, rights-protected content.
So the SIM world has become multifaceted, but yet is underpinned by that same, ubiquitous form factor. High-density SIMs provide one of the most obvious and infinitely accessible channels to all types of applications and multimedia content. Now network operators can truly develop successful business models to benefit from the phenomenal growth in demand from their subscribers for mobile content and services,  and consumers’ insatiable appetites for such services can be better satisfied.
 
 
Ira Cohen is VP of business development
for MegaSIM at msystems, a leader in
this technology 
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