Who Invented the SIM Card? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The subscriber identity module (SIM) card is the brain of a mobile phone. It operates like a computer’s CPU. The tiny card allows your mobile phone to connect to a network provider. Although limited in storage capacity, it has enough space for your unique network ID, phone number, contact list, and important text messages. Learn about the SIM card’s invention and evolution right here. 

Who invented the SIM card?

The German company Giesecke and Devrient, founded by Hermann Giesecke and Alphonse Devrient, invented the SIM card. The company was initially engaged in high-quality printing of securities and currency notes. Giesecke and Devrient also manufactured smart cards.  

The SIM card’s key contributors (and evolution) 

  • Giesecke & Devrient
    First SIM cards

    Giesecke & Devrient is a smartcard manufacturer that invented the SIM card in 1991. It sold the first 300 commercial SIM cards to Radiolinja, a Finnish wireless network operator.

  • Radiolinja
    First GSM phones with SIM cards

    Radiolinja (Elisa) was a Finnish GSM operator since 1988. After purchasing commercial SIM cards from Giesecke & Devrient, the company sold the first GSM mobile phones with a SIM card in 1992, using Nokia 1101 phones.

  • European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
    Adoption of GSM regulations

    ETSI adopted the GSM regulations in the early 1990s, allowing users to connect to their mobile networks to make phone calls to various networks. ETSI also holds the most patents for SIM cards.

  • Siemens AG
    Dual SIM card technology

    Siemens AG originally invented and patented the dual SIM card technology for mobile phones in the 1990s. The industry has used about six similar technologies with some innovations. The first phone to use the technology was Benefon Twin, manufactured by Benefon (Twig Com Ltd.) of Finland.

  • eSIM
    Non-removable, programmable SIM

    eSIM, or embedded SIM, is a programmable SIM introduced by Microsoft to its Windows 10 OS in 2018. Microsoft launched the first device with eSIM on its Surface Pro LTE. Apple, Google, Motorola, and Samsung are some of the manufacturers already selling eSIM-enabled devices.

When was the SIM card invented?

Giesecke and Devrient invented the SIM plug-in in 1989 as a result of their partnership with the European banking industry in developing the Eurocheque system. Officially, the company invented the SIM card in 1991, which became the standard format for SIM cards.

A brief history of the SIM card

The ubiquitous SIM card’s invention was in 1991 in Munich, Germany. Giesecke & Devrient (G+D), a government banknote and security paper printer, invented the SIM card. When the European banking industry established the Eurocheque system in 1968 with Giesecke & Devrient, it opened the door for the printing company to enter the electronic card business successfully. In 1989, the company invented the SIM plug-in, which became the standard for SIM card formats worldwide. It introduced the first SIM card in 1991. Back then, the SIM card was the size of a credit card. 

G+D sold the first 300 commercial SIM cards to Radiolinja, a Finnish GSM operator, which introduced and sold the first GSM mobile phones installed with a SIM card in 1992. Radiolinja installed the SIM cards on Nokia 1101 phone model. 

The evolution of the SIM card almost runs parallel to the history of the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM) network. The purpose of the development of GSM was to establish the protocols for second-generation (2G) cellular networks. GSM specified the guidelines on how cellular networks should operate. GSM is still the default global standard for mobile communication, significantly improving the operations of the first generation of cellular networks. It also represents the transition of mobile telecommunications from analog to digital. 

A crucial part of GSM networks is the SIM card, which stores a network’s user information to authenticate the user. A SIM card lets your phone connect with a GSM network. The GSM network uses the data from your SIM card to track your phone usage so that you can have an accurate billing statement. 

Over the years, with the introduction of several mobile phone designs and configurations, the SIM card also needs to evolve. The full-sized card, introduced in 1996, was the original size of the SIM card. 

The mini-SIM card is what most models of mobile phones have used since its introduction in 1996. The micro-SIM card, introduced in 2003, overshadowed the mini-SIM in popularity, chiefly because mobile phones became thinner and smaller. The micro-SIM still showed a bit of extra plastic around the chip’s edges. 

The nano-SIM debuted in 2012. It was a trimmed version of the micro-SIM and the smallest among the available SIM cards. Only a bit of trimming remained on the edges of the nano-SIM. The thin trimming prevents the SIM from short-circuiting the SIM socket. iPhone 5 was the first smartphone to use the nano-SIM.  

The SIM card’s timeline

  1. 1968
    Basic SIM card technology development

    The year saw the development of the basic technologies for the SIM card. The technology’s development was part of the requirements of the European banking industry and the Eurocheque system it developed with Giesecke and Devrient.

  2. 1989
    Plug-in for SIM card

    Giesecke and Devrient (G+D) developed the plug-in and exchangeable SIM card, which later became the standard for SIM cards.

  3. 1991
    First commercial SIM cards

    G+D developed the first commercial SIM card. The company delivered the first 300 commercial SIM cards to the GSM operator Radiolinja (Elisa) of Finland. The first SIM card was the size of a credit card.

  4. Late 1990s
    Publication of the SIM toolkit

    This period saw the publication of the SIM toolkit standard, enabling the implementation of applications for information services and mobile banking. At the same time, the format of the SIM card becomes smaller.

  5. 2012
    eSIM technology

    The eSIM technology was launched in 2012. With the embedded SIM, the user downloads the SIM profile. The generic SIM module is permanently installed in the device, with the network operator’s data provided remotely.

Where was the SIM card invented?

Munich, Germany is the birthplace of the SIM card. Initially, the company Giesecke and Devrient produced smart cards for the German banking industry. The SIM cards they made evolved from being an authentication tool for mobile phones to communicate into a multifunctional security tool supporting various applications.

The importance of the SIM card

  • Connect with others 

    You can connect to your cellular network provider with a SIM card. It lets you send text messages and make phone calls.

  • Internet device only

    Without a SIM card, you can only use your mobile phone as an internet device, connect to a Wi-Fi network, and surf the net. You can also use your cellphone as a camera.

  • Transferrable into other phones

    The SIM card holds the subscriber’s information. If your battery power runs low, you can take the SIM out and place it into another phone and place calls or send SMS. Any calls or SMS you send using another phone will still show your unique phone number.

  • Contact portability

    Aside from the network information, you typically store your contact list on the SIM card. You can also keep important messages in it. However, while you can store contacts on your phone, you cannot access them if you need to use the SIM card on another phone.

  • Keeps all essential data for communication 

    The SIM card stores all the data you need to connect to the mobile network and the telecom operator. Data includes the network you subscribed to, phone number, and data types, like 3G, 4G, or 5G. You will not have a network signal if you take out the SIM card from the phone.

SIM card by the numbers

  • 32-128The number represents the average kilobytes of data a SIM card can store. Data includes subscriber information and the user’s list of contact persons and numbers.
  • 300Giesecke & Devrient sold the first 300 SIM cards to Radiolinja, a Finnish wireless network operator.
  • 7.1According to a survey, 7.1 billion SIM cards were manufactured worldwide in 2020. By 2027, it is expected to reach 8.6 billion.
  • 3,489.9In 2020, the worth of the worldwide SIM card market reached US$ 3,489.9 million.
  • 3.2The number of people worldwide with at least one active SIM card is 3.2 billion. This represents 46 percent of the global population of seven billion.

Five facts about the SIM card

  • Meaning of SIM

    SIM is an acronym for Subscriber Identity Module. The SIM is a small plastic card that fits into the SIM slot in a mobile phone.

  • A computer chip

    The SIM card is a tiny computer chip that holds information to let you connect to your network provider so you can communicate. Typically, the SIM card can hold up to 64 kb, enough to save your contacts and important text messages.

  • Tiny identifier

    The SIM card functions as a small circuit board that identifies and authenticates you to the network. It will allow you to access your carrier’s network.

  • Network-specific at times

    Some network service providers offer “locked” phones. You can only use a SIM card specific to the network. The provider teams up with a mobile phone manufacturer to provide users exclusive access to the phone.

  • Largest SIM card producer

    Gemalto, a company in the Netherlands, is the largest SIM card producer in the world. Gemalto’s annual SIM card production is two billion.

FAQs about the SIM card

  • What is a SIM card?

    A SIM card allows you to communicate with your network service provider. You can make calls, send text messages, and connect to a mobile internet service with a SIM card. Moreover, it contains your unique ID that identifies your phone to your specific network. 

  • What SIM formats are available?

    Currently, most mobile phones use a standard SIM (85mm x 53mm), a micro-SIM (15mm x 12mm), or a nano-SIM (12.3mm x 8.8mm). The eSIM (embedded SIM) was recently introduced, although its use is still limited. 

  • What size SIM card should I use?

     There is no guesswork here. You can find the information in the phone manual. If you subscribe to a network provider, it will tell you what size SIM card you need. Often, the SIM card comes with a subscription. 

  • Do SIM cards break?

     SIM cards are made of plastic and fit into a slot on your phone. Unless you remove the SIM frequently, it is not likely to break. However, mishandling of both the phone and the SIM card can damage or break the SIM card. 

  • Why do SIM cards change sizes?

     The primary reason is that mobile phones have gotten smaller. Thus, space for all of the phone’s circuitry and other features becomes limited. Also, the older SIM cards have more plastic around the edges. So the manufacturers tried to reduce the extra surface that is useless. 

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