A SIM card (full form: Subscriber Identity Module or Subscriber Identification Module) is an integrated circuit (IC) intended to securely store the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number and its related key, which are used to identify and authenticate subscribers on mobile telephony devices (such as mobile phones and computers). Technically the actual physical card is known as a universal integrated circuit card (UICC); this smart card is usually made of PVC with embedded contacts and semiconductors, with the SIM as its primary component. In practise the term "SIM card" refers to the entire unit and not simply the IC.
A SIM contains a unique serial number (ICCID), international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, 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 key (PUK) for PIN unlocking. In Europe, the serial SIM number (SSN) is also sometimes accompanied by an international article number (IAN) or a European article number (EAN) required when registering online for the subscription of a prepaid card. It is also possible to store contact information on many SIM cards.
The SIM was initially specified by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute 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.
Modern SIM cards allow applications to load 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 3GPP in TS 11.14. (There is an identical ETSI specification with different numbering.) ETSI and 3GPP maintain the SIM specifications. The main specifications are: ETSI TS 102 223 (the toolkit for smart cards), ETSI TS 102 241 (API), ETSI TS 102 588 (application invocation), and ETSI TS 131 111 (toolkit for more SIM-likes). SIM toolkit applications were initially written in native code using proprietary APIs. To provide interoperability of the applications, ETSI chose Java Card. A multi-company collaboration called GlobalPlatform defines some extensions on the cards, with additional APIs and features like more cryptographic security and RFID contactless use added.
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 dialling numbers (SDN), advice-of-charge parameters and value-added service (VAS) applications. (Refer to GSM 11.11.)
SIM cards can come in various data capacities, from 8 KB to at least 256 KB. All can store a maximum of 250 contacts on the SIM, but while the 32 KB has room for 33 mobile network codes (MNCs) or network identifiers, the 64 KB version has room for 80 MNCs. This is used by network operators to store data on preferred networks, mostly used when the SIM is not in its home network but is roaming. The network operator that issued the SIM card can use this to have a phone connect to a preferred network that is more economic for the provider instead of having to pay the network operator that the phone discovered first. This does not mean that a phone containing this SIM card can connect to a maximum of only 33 or 80 networks, instead it means that the SIM card issuer can specify only up to that number of preferred networks. If a SIM is outside these preferred networks, it uses the first or best available network.
Each SIM is internationally identified by its integrated circuit card identifier (ICCID). ICCID is the identifier of the actual SIM card itself: i.e. an identifier for the SIM chip. Nowadays ICCID numbers are also used to identify eSIM profiles, and not only physical SIM cards. ICCIDs are stored in the SIM cards and are also engraved or printed on the SIM card body during a process called personalisation. The ICCID is defined by the ITU-T recommendation E.118 as the primary account number. Its layout is based on ISO/IEC 7812. According to E.118, the number can be up to 19 digits long, including a single check digit calculated using the Luhn algorithm. However, the GSM Phase 1 defined the ICCID length as an opaque data field, 10 octets (20 digits) in length, whose structure is specific to a mobile network operator.
As required by E.118, the ITU-T updates a list of all current internationally assigned IIN codes in its Operational Bulletins which are published twice a month (the last as of January 2019 was No. 1163 from 1 January 2019). ITU-T also publishes complete lists: as of January 2019, the list issued on 1 December 2018 was current, having all issuer identifier numbers before 1 December 2018.
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 takes data off the SIM, and searches for the prior LAI.
Most SIM cards store a number of SMS messages and phone book contacts. It stores the contacts in simple "name and number" pairs. Entries that contain multiple phone numbers and additional phone numbers are usually not stored on the SIM card. When a user tries to copy such entries to a SIM, the handset's software breaks them into multiple entries, discarding information that is not a phone number. The number of contacts and messages stored depends on the SIM; early models stored as few as five messages and 20 contacts, while modern SIM cards can usually store over 250 contacts.
Dual SIM devices have two SIM card slots for the use of two SIM cards, from one or multiple carriers. Multiple SIM devices are commonplace in developing markets such as in Africa, East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, where variable billing rates, network coverage and speed make it desirable for consumers to use multiple SIMs from competing networks. Dual-SIM phones are also useful to separate one's personal phone number from a business phone number, without having to carry multiple devices. Some popular devices, such as the BlackBerry KeyOne, have dual-SIM variants; however, dual-SIM devices were not common in the US or Europe due to lack of demand. This has changed with mainline products from Apple and Google featuring either two SIM slots or a combination of a physical SIM slot and an eSIM. 2b1af7f3a8