Motorola's iSIM could power company-specific mobile apps

Flexible wafer attaches to a GSM phone SIM to deliver apps, services

Motorola's new Intelligent SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) just got its start in Europe by powering a parental control application for GSM phones, but it will also be available to enterprises that need to customize mobile phones for a sales force or other application across an entire group of workers.

The iSIM is a thin, 0.4 mm, flexible wafer containing two chips that attaches to a mobile phone's original SIM card to provide additional services and applications to the phone.

Motorola's first customer for the iSIM, Bipper Communication of Norway, was announced April 7, but Motorola expects the iSIM to be used by a a variety of wireless GSM carriers and application providers globally late this year.

A third chip can be added to the iSIM to provide Near Field Communications to enable a GSM device to be used for mobile banking and purchases, said Venkat Eswara, director of marketing for applications at Motorola.

The potential for adding-in NFC to a phone could be important to financial services and other companies seeking to turn mobile phones into mobile payment tools, said Stephen Drake and Will Stofega, analysts at research firm IDC.

Even for enterprise applications, Drake said iSIM offers "the potential for even more IT control of a phone. There's a lot of talk of how to get more data onto a device and this could be a way."

The iSIM wafer won't be available for purchase by end users, but an enterprise could purchase iSIMs from a carrier and then use the SIM tool kit to build a custom application. The advantage to using an iSIM is that it will work across a number of phone models from different manufacturers being used by a company or customer group, Eswara said in an interview.

"A major enterprise like Pepsi might have multiple carriers and multiple device types, but iSIM gives IT one control point to enable secure sales force automation or ERP application," Eswara said.

In addition, a bank could use the iSIM to issue security tokens into their customers' mobile phones, which would not be tied to a particular mobile carrier, Motorola said in an online brochure ( download .pdf ) about the product.

Eswara said pricing for the iSIM will vary based on the kind of application used. Motorola will also work with companies to develop an iSIM application or to train a company's Java developers in creating an application.

At Bipper of Norway, the iSIM is used to provide parental controls to GSM phones .

Bipper's iSIM application, which initially launched in Bulgaria and Norway, will help parents manage their children's mobile phones, offering a Web-based lookup to see when calls are made and to which numbers. Block-out capabilities are also available, and an emergency calling feature is supported that uses GPS to send an emergency call to five parties that will show where the child's phone is located.

Eswara said he didn't know of any competitor offering anything similar to the iSIM that is a product physically apart from the original SIM in a phone. Many companies already offer a variety of applications that work with a customer's SIM.

IDC's Stofega and Drake also said they have heard of nothing comparable to the iSIM. An enterprise might want to evaluate the iSIM and decide whether it truly provides advantages. One potential downside is that the iSIM could be viewed as a separate component that is harder to manage than an integrated application on a phone.

"It might become something like a Wi-Fi card that you used to have to stick in the side of your laptop to get Wi-Fi," Stofega said.

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