Referendum nears for Apple’s nano-SIM aspirations


Comparison of SIM card sizes by Giesecke & Devrient

Earlier this year we covered the squabbling within the European telecom standards group over Apple’s potentially-not-so-innocent offer of handling and licensing the final design of future nano-SIM cards, the tiny SIM cards carriers put in cell phones. Some members of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) weren’t thrilled with Apple’s offer — Nokia(s NOK) being the most vociferous objector — and the group agreed to delay a vote on the competing offers of nano-SIM designs from Apple and Nokia. Turns out, that vote is wrapping up and we could soon get a referendum on how far Apple’s mobile power does or does not extend.

The Verge chatted with Giesecke & Devrient — the makers of the nano-SIM that Apple designed — at the CTIA conference this week. G&D is showing off Apple’s nano-SIM at the conference and said that the delayed vote on the competing designs for the new standard is actually underway right now and should wrap up by the middle of this month. As The Verge’s report notes, it’s a pretty clear signal that the SIM card pioneer is backing Apple, even if they won’t say it publicly:

G&D is a voting member, though it wouldn’t tell us which way it’s leaning — needless to say, the presence of Apple’s design here signals that they’ll almost certainly put their votes in that direction and away from Nokia’s more radical design that limits backward compatibility with micro-SIM and mini-SIM slots on older phones.

If Apple does get enough votes, its design for the future nano-SIM card used in Europe will be standard. It’s already offered to license the design to other ETSI members for free. That has some important future implications. It would certainly help Apple gain even more leverage over carriers — more than it already has. And if they were able to take their nano-SIM design to more worldwide standards bodies could eventually lead to Apple being able to sell iPhones and iPads as well as sell and activate wireless service plans without having to go through the carriers directly. Or, even more extreme, it could eventually lead to Apple becoming a mobile carrier itself.

Should Nokia win the day and Apple’s design is voted down, well, we’ll know that even as the most profitable mobile handset maker, its power does have limits. But this isn’t a company that would take such a vote as a final answer. Look for it to find other ways to sell its two most important products — the iPhone and iPad — and control the entire customer experience, from the hardware to the software to, eventually, the wireless service.

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