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Subscriber identity module

A typical SIM card (mini-SIM) A mini-SIM card next to its electrical contacts in a Nokia 6233 A TracFone Wireless SIM card has no distinctive carrier markings and is only marked as a "SIM CARD"

A subscriber identity module or subscriber identification module (SIM) is an integrated circuit that securely stores the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) and the related key used to identify and authenticate subscribers on mobile telephony devices (such as mobile phones and computers).

A SIM is embedded into a removable SIM card, which can be transferred between different mobile devices. SIM cards were first made the same size as a credit card (85.60 mm 53.98 mm 0.76 mm). The development of physically-smaller mobile devices prompted the development of a smaller SIM card, the mini-SIM card. Mini-SIM cards have the same thickness as full-size cards, but their length and width are reduced to 25 mm 15 mm.

A SIM card contains its unique serial number (ICCID), international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI), security authentication and ciphering information, temporary information related to the local network, a list of the services the user has access to and two passwords: a personal identification number (PIN) for ordinary use and a personal unblocking code (PUK) for PIN unlocking.



The SIM was initially specified by ETSI in the specification with the number TS 11.11. This specification describes the physical and logical behaviour of the SIM. With the development of UMTS the specification work was partially transferred to 3GPP. 3GPP is now responsible for the further development of applications like SIM (TS 51.011) and USIM (TS 31.102) and ETSI for the further development of the physical card UICC.

The first SIM card was made in 1991 by Munich smart-card maker Giesecke & Devrient, who sold the first 300 SIM cards to the Finnish wireless network operator Radiolinja.[1]


SIM chip structure and packaging

There are three operating voltages for SIM cards: , and (ISO/IEC 7816-3 classes A, B and C, respectively). The operating voltage of the majority of SIM cards launched before 1998 was . SIM cards produced subsequently are compatible with and . Modern cards support , and .

The microcontrollers used for SIM cards come in different configurations. The typical ROM size is between and , typical RAM size is between and , and typical EEPROM size is between and . The ROM contains the operating system of the card and might contain applets where the EEPROM contains the so called personalisation, which consists of security keys, phone book, SMS settings, etc., and operating system patches.

Modern SIM cards allow that applications can be loaded when the SIM is in use by the subscriber. These applications communicate with the handset or a server using SIM application toolkit, which was initially specified by ETSI in TS 11.14. SIM toolkit applications were initially written in native code using proprietary APIs. In order to allow interoperability of the applications Java Card was taken as the solution of choice by ETSI.


SIM cards store network-specific information used to authenticate and identify subscribers on the network. The most important of these are the ICCID, IMSI, Authentication Key (Ki), Local Area Identity (LAI) and Operator-Specific Emergency Number. The SIM also stores other carrier-specific data such as the SMSC (Short Message Service Center) number, Service Provider Name (SPN), Service Dialing Numbers (SDN), Advice-Of-Charge parameters and Value Added Service (VAS) applications. (Refer to GSM 11.11)

SIM cards can come in at least two capacity types: and . Both allow a maximum of 250 contacts to be stored on the SIM, but while the has room for 33 mobile network codes (MNCs) or "network identifiers", the version has room for 80 MNCs. This is used by network operators to store information on preferred networks, mostly used when the SIM is not in its 'home' country but is roaming. The network operator that issued the SIM card can use this to have a SIM card connect to a preferred network in order to make use of the best price and/or quality network instead of having to pay the network operator that the SIM card 'saw' first. This does not mean that a SIM card can only connect to a maximum of 33 or 80 networks, but this means that the SIM card issuer can only specify up to that amount of preferred networks, if a SIM is outside these preferred networks it will use the first or best available network.


Each SIM is internationally identified by its integrated circuit card identifier (ICCID). ICCIDs are stored in the SIM cards and are also engraved or printed on the SIM card body during a process called personalization. The ICCID is defined by the ITU-T recommendation E.118 as the Primary Account Number.[2] Its layout is based on ISO/IEC 7812. According to E.118, the number is up to 19 digits long, including a single check digit calculated using the Luhn algorithm. However, the GSM Phase 1[3] defined the ICCID length as 10 octets (20 digits) with operator-specific structure.

The number is composed of the following subparts:

Issuer identification number (IIN)

Maximum of seven digits:

  • Major industry identifier (MII), 2 fixed digits, 89 for telecommunication purposes.
  • Country code, 1-3 digits, as defined by ITU-T recommendation E.164.
  • Issuer identifier, 1-4 digits.
Individual account identification
  • Individual account identification number. Its length is variable, but every number under one IIN will have the same length.
Check digit
  • Single digit calculated from the other digits using the Luhn algorithm.

With the GSM Phase 1 specification using 10 octets into which ICCID is stored as packed BCD, the data field has room for 20 digits with hexadecimal digit "F" being used as filler when necessary.

In practice, this means that on GSM SIM cards there are 20-digit (19+1) and 19-digit (18+1) ICCIDs in use, depending upon the issuer. However, a single issuer always uses the same size for its ICCIDs.

To confuse matters more, SIM factories seem to have varying ways of delivering electronic copies of SIM personalization datasets. Some datasets are without the ICCID checksum digit, others are with the digit.

As required by E.118, The ITU regularly publishes a list of all internationally assigned IIN codes in its Operational Bulletins. The most recent list, as of 23 December 2011, is in Operational Bulletin No. 971

International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI)

SIM cards are identified on their individual operator networks by a unique IMSI. Mobile operators connect mobile phone calls and communicate with their market SIM cards using their IMSIs. The format is:

  • The first three digits represent the Mobile Country Code (MCC).
  • The next two or three digits represent the Mobile Network Code (MNC). Three-digit MNC codes are allowed by E.212 but are mainly used in the United States and Canada.
  • The next digits represent the Mobile Subscriber Identification Number (MSIN). Normally there will be 10 digits but would be fewer in the case of a 3-digit MNC or if national regulations indicate that the total length of the IMSI should be less than 15 digits.

Authentication key (Ki)

The Ki is a 128-bit value used in authenticating the SIMs on the mobile network. Each SIM holds a unique Ki assigned to it by the operator during the personalization process. The Ki is also stored in a database (termed authentication center or AuC) on the carrier's network.

The SIM card is designed not to allow the Ki to be obtained using the smart-card interface. Instead, the SIM card provides a function, Run GSM Algorithm, that allows the phone to pass data to the SIM card to be signed with the Ki. This, by design, makes usage of the SIM card mandatory unless the Ki can be extracted from the SIM card, or the carrier is willing to reveal the Ki. In practice, the GSM cryptographic algorithm for computing SRES_2 (see step 4, below) from the Ki has certain vulnerabilities[4] that can allow the extraction of the Ki from a SIM card and the making of a duplicate SIM card.

Authentication process:

  1. When the Mobile Equipment starts up, it obtains the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) from the SIM card, and passes this to the mobile operator requesting access and authentication. The Mobile Equipment may have to pass a PIN to the SIM card before the SIM card will reveal this information.
  2. The operator network searches its database for the incoming IMSI and its associated Ki.
  3. The operator network then generates a Random Number (RAND, which is a nonce) and signs it with the Ki associated with the IMSI (and stored on the SIM card), computing another number known as Signed Response 1 (SRES_1).
  4. The operator network then sends the RAND to the Mobile Equipment, which passes it to the SIM card. The SIM card signs it with its Ki, producing SRES_2, which it gives to the Mobile Equipment along with encryption key Kc. The Mobile Equipment passes SRES_2 on to the operator network.
  5. The operator network then compares its computed SRES_1 with the computed SRES_2 that the Mobile Equipment returned. If the two numbers match, the SIM is authenticated and the Mobile Equipment is granted access to the operator's network. Kc is used to encrypt all further communications between the Mobile Equipment and the network.

Location area identity

The SIM stores network state information, which is received from the Location Area Identity (LAI). Operator networks are divided into Location Areas, each having a unique LAI number. When the device changes locations, it stores the new LAI to the SIM and sends it back to the operator network with its new location. If the device is power cycled, it will take data off the SIM, and search for the prior LAI. This saves time by avoiding having to search the whole list of frequencies that the telephone normally would.

SMS messages and contacts

Most SIM cards will orthogonally store a number of SMS messages and phone book contacts. The contacts are stored in simple "name and number" pairs: entries containing multiple phone numbers and additional phone numbers will usually not be stored on the SIM card. When a user tries to copy such entries to a SIM the handset's software will break them up into multiple entries, discarding any information that is not a phone number. The number of contacts and messages stored depends on the SIM; early models would store as few as five messages and 20 contacts while modern SIM cards can usually store over 250 contacts.


Micro-SIM and mini-SIM, as normally supplied in full-sized carrier cards. Micro-SIM with mini-SIM and full SIM brackets from Telia in Sweden US dime]], which is approx. 18 mm in diameter. Embedded SIM from M2M supplier Eseye with an adapter board for evaluation in a Mini-SIM socket

SIM cards are available in four standard sizes; full-size, mini-SIM, micro-SIM and embedded SIM. The first to appear was the full-size and is the size of a credit card (85.60 mm 53.98 mm 0.76 mm). A newer, more popular, version has the same thickness but has a length of 25 mm and a width of 15 mm, and has one of its corners truncated (chamfered) to prevent misinsertion. It is known as a mini-SIM or 2FF (2nd Form Factor). The newest incarnation, known as the micro-SIM or 3FF (3rd Form Factor), has dimensions of 15 mm 12 mm.

The mini-SIM card has the same contact arrangement as the full-size SIM card and is normally supplied within a full-size card carrier, attached by a number of linking pieces. This arrangement (defined in ISO/IEC 7810 as ID-1/000) allows for such a card to be used in a device requiring a full-size card, or to be used in a device requiring a mini-SIM card after cleanly breaking the scorings manufactured in the outline of a mini-SIM card.

For use in even smaller devices, the 3FF card or micro-SIM cards have the same thickness and contact arrangements, but the length and width are further reduced as above.

SIM cards for M2M applications are available in a surface mount SON-8 package which may be soldered directly onto a circuit board.

The logical functions of a SIM card are independent from its format.

SIM card sizes
SIM card Standard reference Length (mm) Width (mm) Thickness (mm)
Full-size ISO/IEC 7810:2003, ID-1 85.60 53.98 0.76
Mini-SIM ISO/IEC 7810:2003, ID-000 25.00 15.00 0.76
Micro-SIM ETSI TS 102 221 V9.0.0, Mini-UICC 15.00 12.00 0.76
Nano-SIM ETSI TS 102 221 V9.0.0, Mini-UICC 12.30 8.80 0.76
Embedded-SIM JEDEC Design Guide 4.8, SON-8 6.00 5.00 <1.0

The micro-SIM was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) along with SCP, 3GPP (UTRAN/GERAN), 3GPP2 (CDMA2000), ARIB, GSM Association (GSMA SCaG and GSMNA), GlobalPlatform, Liberty Alliance, and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) for the purpose of fitting into devices otherwise too small for a mini-SIM card.[5][6]

The form factor was mentioned in the Dec 1998 3GPP SMG9 UMTS Working Party, which is the standards-setting body for GSM SIM cards,[7] and the form factor was agreed upon in late 2003.[8]

The micro-SIM was created for backward compatibility. The major issue with backward compatibility was the contact area of the chip. Retaining the same contact area allows the micro-SIM to be compatible with the prior, larger SIM readers through the use of plastic cutout surrounds. The SIM was also designed to run at the same speed (5 MHz) as the prior version. The same size and positions of pins resulted in numerous "How-to" tutorials and YouTube video with detailed instructions how to cut a mini-SIM card to micro-SIM size with a sharp knife or scissors. These tutorials became very popular among first owners of iPad 3G after its release on April 30, 2010 and iPhone 4 on June 24, 2010.[9]

The chairman of EP SCP, Dr. Klaus Vedder, said[8]

"With this decision, we can see that ETSI has responded to a market need from ETSI customers, but additionally there is a strong desire not to invalidate, overnight, the existing interface, nor reduce the performance of the cards. EP SCP expect to finalise the technical realisation for the third form factor at the next SCP plenary meeting, scheduled for February 2004."

The surface mount format provides the same electrical interface as the Full size, 2FF and 3FF SIM cards, but is soldered to the circuit board as part of the manufacturing process. In M2M applications where there is no requirement to change the SIM card, this avoids the requirement for a connector, improving reliability and security.


When GSM was already in use the specifications were further developed and enhanced with functionality like SMS, GPRS, etc. These development steps are referred as releases by ETSI. Within this development cycles the SIM specification was enhanced as well: new voltage classes, formats and files were introduced.

In GSM-only times the SIM consisted of the hardware and the software. With the advent of UMTS this naming was split: the SIM was now an application and hence only software. The hardware part was called UICC. This split was necessary because UMTS introduced a new application, the USIM. The USIM brought among other things security improvements like the mutual authentication and longer encryption keys and an improved address book.

"SIM cards" in developed countries are today usually UICCs containing at least a SIM and a USIM application. This configuration is necessary because older GSM only handsets are solely compatible with the SIM [application] and some UMTS security enhancements do rely on the USIM [application].

The equivalent of SIM on CDMA networks is the R-UIM (and the equivalent of USIM is CSIM).

A virtual SIM is a mobile phone number provided by a mobile network operator that does not require a SIM card to connect phone calls to a user's mobile phone.

Usage in mobile phone standards

The use of SIM cards is mandatory in GSM devices.

The satellite phone networks Iridium, Thuraya and Inmarsat's BGAN also use SIM cards. Sometimes these SIM cards work in regular GSM phones and also allow GSM customers to roam in satellite networks by using their own SIM card in a satellite phone.

Japan's 2G PDC system (which will be completely shut down by 2012; SoftBank Mobile has already shut down PDC from March 31, 2010) also specifies a SIM, but this has never been implemented commercially. The specification of the interface between the Mobile Equipment and the SIM is given in the RCR STD-27 annex 4. The Subscriber Identity Module Expert Group was a committee of specialists assembled by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to draw up the specifications (GSM 11.11) for interfacing between smart cards and mobile telephones. In 1994, the name SIMEG was changed to SMG9.

Japan's current and next generation cellular systems are based on W-CDMA (UMTS) and CDMA2000 and all use SIM cards.

CDMA-based devices originally did not use a removable card, and the service for these phones bound to a unique identifier contained in the handset itself. This is most prevalent in operators in the Americas. The first publication of the TIA-820 standard (also known as 3GPP2 C.S0023) in 2000 defined the Removable User Identity Module (R-UIM). Card-based CDMA devices are most prevalent in Asia.

The equivalent of a SIM in UMTS is called the Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC), which runs a USIM application. The UICC is still colloquially called a SIM card.

File:Thuraya sim.jpeg|SIM card for Thuraya satellite phone File:Grameenphone SIM Both Side.JPG| Grameenphone's SIM card File:Au ic card.jpg|KDDI's au IC-Card File:NTT DoCoMo FOMA card chip green.jpg|NTT DoCoMo's FOMA Card

SIM and carriers

The SIM card introduced a new and significant business opportunity of mobile telecommunications operator/carrier business of the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) which does not own or operate a cellular telecoms network, but which leases capacity from one of the network operators, and only provides a SIM card to its customers. MVNOs first appeared in Denmark, Hong Kong, Finland and the UK and today exist in over 50 countries, including most of Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Asia, and account for approximately 10% of all mobile phone subscribers around the world.

On some networks, the mobile phone is locked to its carrier SIM card, meaning that only the specific carrier's SIM cards will work. This is more common in markets where mobile phones are heavily subsidised by the carriers, and the business model depends on the customer staying with the service provider for a minimum term (typically 12 or 24 months). Common examples are the GSM networks in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and Poland. Many businesses offer the ability to remove the SIM lock from a phone, effectively making it possible to then use the phone on any network by inserting a different SIM card. Mostly, GSM and 3G mobile handsets can easily be unlocked and used on any suitable network with any SIM card.

In countries where the phones are not subsidised, e.g., India and Belgium, all phones are unlocked. Where the phone is not locked to its SIM card, the users can easily switch networks by simply replacing the SIM card of one network with that of another while using only one phone. This is typical, for example, among users who may want to optimise their carrier's traffic by different tariffs to different friends on different networks, or when traveling internationally.


A term used to describe software held on or running on a SIM card.[10]

See also


External links

ar: ba:SIM- bg:SIM ca:SIM cs:SIM karta de:SIM-Karte et:SIM el:SIM es:Tarjeta SIM eu:SIM txartel fa: fr:Carte SIM ko:SIM hi: hr:SIM id:Kartu SIM it:Subscriber Identity Module he:Subscriber Identity Module lv:SIM karte lt:SIM kortel ml: nl:Simkaart ja:SIM no:SIM-kort pl:Karta SIM pt:Cart o SIM ru:SIM- si: fi:Subscriber Identity Module sv:SIM ta: tr:Simkart uk:SIM- vi:SIM ( i n tho i) zh:SIM

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