SIMs evolve rapidly to meet telematics requirements

  • 04-Mar-2010 09:03 EST

SIM devices are tiny, but the potential market is huge for providers who ruggedize the chips.

Cellular service providers are making significant changes as they ramp up for the widespread takeoff of telematics. One of the key challenges is a change in the subscriber identity modules that identify users and link them to the network.

SIM devices are needed in vehicles that connect to the cellular networks. Although many vehicles will leverage drivers’ cell phones so they won’t need embedded SIMs, the market still shows huge potential growth. iSuppli predicts that global Internet connectivity will soar from 970,000 last year to 62 million in 2016.

Telephony companies have long designed SIMs for use in products that are dropped and jostled as they’re carried about, but their initial attempt to work with automakers brought a major surprise.

“One impediment for a long time was that SIMs were designed for consumer phones, not for long lifetime deployment,” said Eric Krauss, Director of Product Marketing Management for AT&T. “We’ve worked with our suppliers to get higher grade silicon and plastics for SIMs.”

Cellular providers around the globe have been scrambling to beef up components to meet automotive requirements. “SIMs are being very much customized; they need to work in harsh environments for a long time,” said Robert Brunbäck, Head of Market Strategy for Swedish-based Telenor Connexion AB. “We’re working with companies like Daimler, Volvo, and Scania.”

While they develop conventional plug-in cards, cellular providers are also reworking chips so they can be attached permanently, eliminating the need for plastic housings.

“A year ago, we announced an embedded SIM that can be mounted directly on a circuit board,” said John Horn, National Director of T-Mobile’s Machine to Machine (M2M) Field.”

T-Mobile is also working with suppliers such as Motorola to provide SIMs designed to be embedded into modules while also launching an enhanced SIM with heavy-duty plastic.

Analysts note that billing plans will also have to change. The simpler the plans are for consumers, the more attractive they’ll be to the automakers who design them in.

“The network carriers may have to change their model,” said Thilo Koslowski, Automotive Vice President at Gartner. “Consumers want to have SIMs in their phone and in their car. They may have the same phone number and same plan in both, with one contract that specifies that you have two devices, somewhat similar to family plans the phone companies offer today for cell phones.”

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