3FF – The Next Big Thing in SIM Cards?

Published: 29 Jan 2010

In January 2010, Apple made another big splash with the launch of the iPad.  While the repercussions of Apple’s new product have yet to be felt, a subtle yet key feature of the iPad will have lasting impact amongst device manufacturers and Smart Card vendors alike.  The iPad, which will be available with 3G mobile networking in the May/June 2010 timeframe, will use the 3FF or Micro SIM form factor.


Although Steve Jobs specifically, and Apple in general, are masters of showmanship and spin doctoring, they technically did not have the first device launched with a 3FF SIM.  Lok8u, running on the T-Mobile network, has that honor.  Lok8u’s selection of 3FF SIM is obvious.  Their nu.m8 GPS children’s locator watch is just too small for the ubiquitous 2FF SIM.  The question remains, why would Apple, whose iPad has been accused of being “just a bigger iPod Touch” by Nintendo’s CEO, require the smaller form factor SIM chip in their largest form factor mobile device?  Perhaps a better question is why device manufacturers have eschewed the 3FF form factor for so long, considering the smaller form factor dates back to around 2003.

Comparison of SIM form factors

Since the dawn of the subscriber identification module (SIM Card), the technology and physical size of the smart card element have made great strides to increase functionality, convenience, and ease of integration.  This has resulted in smaller cards with increased processing capabilities, larger memory capacities, and unique features designed to enrich the end-user experience.  In fact, the original SIM cards used a form factor very similar to traditional cards (such as a credit or debit cards), making them large, cumbersome, and design inhibitive.  Manufacturers of mobile devices have continued to raise the bar in terms of packing maximum features into minimum space, and every component must continually shrink or deliver more features per cubic mm.  This trend means it is likely that the current standard 2FF SIM card format will prove inadequate for many of the applications going forward, making an even smaller format necessary.

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