Mobile Phone SIM Cards With Integrated WiFi Hotspots, Applications and Commercial Models

The mobile telecommunications industry recently announced a fascinating development: the integration of a WiFi hotspot inside a standard GSM SIM card. The entire WiFi hotspot including antenna have been integrated into the tiny 25x15x1mm SIM card. When inserted into a normal GSM phone, the SIM card uses SIMtoolkit to access the data bearers (like GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, etc) available on the phone. Hence creating a WiFi hotspot around the phone. In my experience, the range of such a configuration would be limited (metres rather than a hundred metres), but this technology offers the potential of accessing the internet from your WiFi enabled netbook using a standard mobile phone.

This technology was originally conceived by Telenor, who were at the time investigating solutions to locate mobile phones with a high degree of resolution within buildings. They used a WiFi access node integrated inside a SIM card to report back the WiFi cells in range, hence determining the mobile phone’s approximate position. This in my opinion is an innovative solution to an age old problem. Telefonica, working with the SIM vendor Sagem Orga (Morpho) recently launched the SIMfi, as a commercial product.

The question which remains unanswered is, “is this technology for technologies sake?” Or is there a real commercial model underlying this technology. There are a number of potential applications, for example, effectively using the WiFi link to replace a cable (tethered connectivity) to enable laptops to access the internet. For accurate in-building location. Or, for the creation of millions of moving WiFi hotspots to provide a data network backhauled using the mobile network.

In my experience, mobile network operators try to move traffic off their cellular networks (like EDGE or HSDPA), on to fixed WiFi networks wherever possible. This is to alleviate Quality of Service problems that they are currently encountering. Hence, it’s most likely that any embedded WiFi device within a SIM will be used as an access node not a HotStop. Other than by government mandate, there are few highly successful, paid for, location applications.

Update 2014: it seems that the integration of WiFi into a SD memory card has proven to be a much more popular option among consumers. Location update supported by WiFi or GPS within a handset device has become a very popular feature. Although many innovative location aware applications have emerged, and many have become successful, mobile operators are still in search of location applications that represent a material revenue stream.

(c) Andrew White 2014. Reproduction permitted provide no changes and links remain intact. All rights reserved internationally.

Andrew White has over 20 years experience in the international telecommunications industry, including as Chief Strategy Officer of a listed mobile operator (carrier) with a market capitalisation in excess of $3b and over 9 million customers.