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CPU, RAM, Android - all on one SIM card

CPU, RAM, Android - all on one SIM card

The humble SIM card is set to become a lot more impressive following SK Telecom's research into embedded computing.

In a feat of engineering that really justifies the use of the word "impressive", and presumably as a demonstration of the technologies that could lead to ultra-slim handsets in the future, Korean mobile provider SK Telecom has created a SIM card which contains a computer, storage, and the Android mobile platform.

Yes, you read that right: a SIM card which contains everything you need to run a modern mobile operating system - lacking merely the ancillaries like radio transceiver and display.

As reported over on MobileCrunch, the standard size SIM manages to contain CPU, a small amount of RAM, 1GB of solid-state storage, and a copy of Google's Android mobile OS - potentially everything you need to run the operating system - leaving the rest of the 'phone to handle the boring stuff like connecting to the mobile network, providing power, and offering input and output devices like keypads, touchscreens, and speakers.

While the device is, for now, only a prototype it offers a glimpse into the future when a move between handsets means taking your entire operating system - complete with settings, address book, saved messages, and ringtones - with you, and instantly having the new handset configured exactly to your preferences. Well, so long as you stick with Android, of course.

The general premise hearkens back to the days when most mobile handsets stored messages and contact details on the SIM's internal memory - which was usually measured in kilobytes. As handsets became more advanced - with MMS, larger address books, customised ringtones - they were forced to move the data storage onto the handset rather than the SIM, making moving to a new handset a somewhat painful experience. SK Telecom's latest invention could solve all that - providing handset manufacturers buy in to the idea.

So far the company has not announced any plans to commercialise the product, but if the interest is there it's certain to license the technology.

Do you think that the all-in-one SIM could represent the future of mobile devices, or is SK Telecom merely showing off its technical prowess with an impressive but ultimately useless feat of engineering? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

24 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
mi1ez 18th February 2010, 12:55 Quote
Wow...
l3v1ck 18th February 2010, 12:59 Quote
I still keep all my numbers on my SIM. It saves so much hassle when switching phones.
Skiddywinks 18th February 2010, 13:12 Quote
Holy miniturisation Batman!
bigsharn 18th February 2010, 13:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Wow...
proxess 18th February 2010, 13:35 Quote
Nice piece of tech, 10 years to reach the market.
War-Rasta 18th February 2010, 13:41 Quote
Simply amazing! I think it's a great idea and definitely a very useful for us consumers.
rickysio 18th February 2010, 14:01 Quote
Useless for me - what happens if I want a faster phone? Replace the whole SIM, and go through the whole trouble of backing up again...?
yakyb 18th February 2010, 14:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rickysio
Useless for me - what happens if I want a faster phone? Replace the whole SIM, and go through the whole trouble of backing up again...?

this.
eddtox 18th February 2010, 14:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by proxess
Nice piece of tech, 10 years to reach the market.

I second that. A lot of work will need to be done before this hits our phones. I also wonder how this compares performance-wise to existing/upcoming products like snapdragon and qualcom's new chip? I can't imagine they've managed to squeeze in a 1GHz processor and 1080p-capable graphics in there. Therefore chances are it will see more use in low-end devices. However, that being said, the initial cost of such a sim-card is likely to be many times higher that existing sim-cards, at least in the beginning, potentially stifling it's uptake in that market.

Another side-effect might be the need to periodically upgrade your sim-card as better models come out. This, in my view, destroys one of the best things about sim-cards, which is that you can have one for years and use it in phone after phone after phone without any hassle. ( I've had my vodafone sim for 3 years and others for even longer)
praxis22 18th February 2010, 14:15 Quote
if a "faster phone" isn't an oxymoron, it should be.

I'm also amazed by the feat.

I've long thought that the primary problems with the paradigms of "near & far" is unified data. If you could get the chip in a fob that just plugged into things, like a desktop, slate, and mobile platform, much the same way people use laptop docks, then the future may be closer than we suspect.

kudos to the SK Telecom team.
PureSilver 18th February 2010, 14:18 Quote
Overtly complex and staggeringly pointless once you take into account the fact that the phone will have to be redesigned to use this SIM; in which case, what's the point of sticking to the SIM form factor? You won't be able to use this in normal phones, I assume, and the phones that will be able to use it won't be able to use normal SIMs. They could have made it any shape they liked and it wouldn't make any difference.

What the humble SIM needs is much bigger storage so I can transfer my phonebook from phone to phone without problems. I had to get a smartphone that syncs with Outlook before I could satisfactorily move the contacts around. A micro-SD card these days can be GB in size. Surely it's not too much to ask for a SIM to be able to hold a few hundred texts and contacts?
rickysio 18th February 2010, 15:20 Quote
Even if they succeed, battery sizes will still remain the same as manufacturers use the additional space for unnecessary stuff.
fodder 18th February 2010, 18:01 Quote
Ummm, Android uses the cloud for the contacts, calendar and e-mails anyway, so no need to store it on the card at all.

Nice tech though, although once to take into account Moore's law it becomes a tad outdated very quickly.
confusis 18th February 2010, 19:10 Quote
I think the phones won't shrink - if my phone was any smaller i'd never find it!
shanky887614 18th February 2010, 20:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by confusis
I think the phones won't shrink - if my phone was any smaller i'd never find it!

you should have seen my mums old nokia, you could lose it anyware

i doubt its as small as this (i dont know if this is faked or not

http://blog.loaz.com/media/smallest-cell-phone-lip-stick.jpg
confusis 18th February 2010, 20:16 Quote
what's the point in such a small phone? if you hold it to your ear the mic would be too far away from your mouth. how would you enter numbers quickly?
Jehla 18th February 2010, 20:47 Quote
I'm all for making tech smaller, but why would I want the cpu and ram on my sim card?
I've had my sim since I had a nokia 3210, that thing would never be able to power a 3" touch screen smart phone!
Keeping texts and contacts etc on my sim card, Brilliant!
Having to buy a new sim card capable of running a newest handset and so removing the earlier positives... Rubbish!
pimonserry 18th February 2010, 21:50 Quote
Great concept, but I think the only realistic use would be if Android was stored on the SIM (with some sort of universal driver system) as, as somebody mentioned above, contacts/calendar etc. (apart from messages) are stored in the cloud, and CPU + RAM on a SIM would mean you really screw things up trying to upgrade.

Just think - SIM card, removable, holds all software and user data (swap CPU + RAM for more storage)
Phone - the hardware-side of the trip, swappable/upgradeable without losing any data.
tad2008 19th February 2010, 00:48 Quote
To be honest, this sounds like a rather good offering! With the SIM holding the OS and user data this will mean we may have the opportunity to switch our choice of OS to suit our needs on our phones in a far simpler way than we currently can with laptops or PC's today, now that would make the mobile phone platform something amazing and perhaps manufacturers would concentrate more on real features than worrying about the UI or having to write their own slow or buggy software.

I don't doubt that the new "sims" would come to have some form of lifespan as sim card features and the OS support increases and mobile devices become smarter still to accommodate new technological advances and our ever demanding needs.
Mraedis 19th February 2010, 06:05 Quote
This could perhaps be used as a very-low-power state solution for mobile phones, the internal cpu and the one in the sim switching whenever the phone is used/unused? :)
The_Beast 19th February 2010, 06:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Wow...
GravitySmacked 19th February 2010, 07:40 Quote
Quote:
While the device is, for now, only a prototype it offers a glimpse into the future when a move between handsets means taking your entire operating system - complete with settings, address book, saved messages, and ringtones - with you, and instantly having the new handset configured exactly to your preferences. Well, so long as you stick with Android, of course


Sounds good to me.
BLC 19th February 2010, 08:17 Quote
I think you're all missing the important question here.

If I stick one up my bum, can I turn myself into a mobile phone?

:D





Getting back to the point however.... It's an impressive achievement, but has little immediate practical use. Firstly, this will never replace the traditional SIM card; SIM cards are far too universal and embedded into the market. It would take a major shift in the market to facilitate the move away from SIM cards, and I don't see that happening any time soon. SIM cards fulfill their role perfectly. It could certainly complement traditional SIM cards, but it would have to gain near-universal acceptance for it to be truly beneficial. As others have pointed out, it would be a little impractical though: upgrades to new devices or faster CPUs would negate much of the benefit that the technology promises. Upgrading your phone today is a relatively simple matter - providing you already have the ability to sync the data phone. All you have to do is buy a new phone, swap your traditional SIM card into the new device and sync your data to the new device.
TheUn4seen 21st February 2010, 20:23 Quote
The same could be achieved by unification of system configuration data storage formats and simply copying system images, cache and user data to flash memory integrated into simcard - and this could be done right now, no need to wait for the future. Just add a 16GB MicroSD card and redesign the connector in a way that would be compatible with every phone - adding a few pins next to the normal sim ones - such card would be compatible with other phones (being a standard simcard) and would give storage area to compatible phones to store system and data.

Integrating CPU and RAM into simcard is impressive, but an overkill and limiting. Smartphones evolve almost as quickly as PCs - first Andriod (G1) phone had an MSM7201A - a 528MHz CPU, while current ones have Snapdragons which are more than twice as fast (even before you factor in the faster GPU) and use less power - and that's just a 2 year difference between them. My private phone number (and simcard) is about five years old now, so go figure.
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