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Coming, mega SIM cards
Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi
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June 29, 2005

Throw away your old SIM card -- you won't have to worry about limited space for storing phone numbers or your SMS messages. Last fortnight, the France-based Gemplus unveiled at "Communications Asia" in Singapore plans for a new generation of cards which will provide customers with a huge one gigabyte of storage space, nearly 3,000 times the space you use currently (most Indian SIM cards have 32 kilobytes of memory).

This new technology offers innumerable features, many of which are available only in high-end phones with large memory (from 64 megabytes to 128 MB, though with expandable memory some are offering even 3GB).

But now the SIM card's memory will offer the ability to store high resolution photos, large MP3 files and enable live video streaming and advanced gaming applications and much more advanced data applications. These applications expand the role of mobile phones beyond voice services, making mobile handsets a personalised infotainment hand device.

Gemplus has started trials of 64MB and 128 MB cards with some operators globally -- the same capacity available in some of the high end phones which also have detachable memory sticks. Later, it hopes to introduce one GB cards.

Says Gemplus India managing director Vijay Parthasarathy: "Many of the multimedia applications like gaming and video require Java-enabled phones which are high priced, in the range of Rs 30,000. The SIM card offers a much cheaper alternative as it is already Java enabled. So you can use a normal phone."

The message is clear: for extra space customers have two choices -- buy expensive handsets which offer more memory or go for the cheaper alternative of using a card which provides the extra memory space.

Telecom service providers too benefit. Parthasarathy points out that the new SIM cards will help mobile operators to differentiate their services by offering value added services on the SIM that are available only to their customers. They will also offer mobile service companies revenue streams.

At the moment, most Indian mobile service companies offer SIM cards with memories that range from 32 KB to 64 KB. The 32 KB SIM card is good enough to store 250 phone numbers and about 30 SMS messages.

The Bharti group offers cards with 64 KB capacity which, apart from more space for the phone book and SMS incorporates specialised services like a personal vault, where you can store your passwords for ATM cards or a facility by which the SIM card number can be transferred to a computer wirelessly so that you are not left in the lurch if you lose your phone or the SIM card.

But does a market for the high memory products exist in India? With gaming and photophones and video becoming popular, one may develop faster than most people expect.

Says Mohit Bhatnagar, head of new products at Bharti Televentures: "If what they are promising can be delivered, it is surely an attractive and cheaper way to grow the market in India. But our concern is whether the SIM cards will work across all handsets to enable these multi media services. I have my doubts."

So will SIM cards remain just a instrument for mobile service companies to authenticate their customers? Or will they compete with mobile phone manufacturers by offering customers a cheaper storage alternative?

Replies Parthasarathy: "I think with customers looking for more and more space and storage, both will complement each other rather than compete."

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