A Brief History of the SIM Card

SIM cards are one of the many examples of hidden technology that enable our daily lives in the modern world. The majority of people need to only think about and see their SIM card for a few minutes each time they upgrade their phone. Here at SIM Local, we think about and see SIM cards more often than the average person! While we appreciate that not everyone shares our obsession, we’ve picked out some of the more interesting facts to share with you today.

 

Starting on an unexpected note, did you know that the Zimbabwean government abandoned its currency in 2009 due to hyperinflation? At its most extreme, prices were doubling almost daily, with the quickest doubling on record being 24.7 hours. In November 2008, the rate of inflation was calculated at a staggering 79,600,000,000% per month. So what has that got to do with the phone in your pocket? The German company Giesecke & Devrient, who printed these bank notes for Zimbabwe, are the same company who made the first SIM cards. They sold the first batch in 1991, a very modest order of 300 SIM cards in comparison to the billions which exist globally today.

 

So who bought these SIM cards? It won’t come as a big surprise to find that it was the technologically advanced Scandinavians. Radiolinja, a company in Finland, achieved a number of additional firsts in the mobile space during the nineties:

 

  • 1991: The world’s first GMS call was placed, which was the start of what is now billions of daily phone calls. Give Giesecke & Devrient and Radiolinja a thought the next time you’re forced to listen to “hello? I’m on the train. THE TRAIN.”
  • 1993: The first person-to-person SMS text message was sent, launching thumb Olympics amongst teenagers worldwide.
  • 1996: The world’s first fixed-mobile service bundle was launched.
  • 1998: The world’s first ringtone was sold. In our current world of in-app purchases, Netflix and Kindles, it’s strange to think that the industry of digital downloadable content didn’t exist until this first ringtone sale 17 years ago.

 

Another thing that has changed in the world of SIM cards is their size. Following most technology trends, over the years they have become simultaneously smaller and more powerful. The original SIM cards were the same size as a credit card. If you think back to the last time you bought a new SIM card, you might recall that it came embedded in a credit card sized piece of plastic. This is because new SIM cards are required to be compatible with older models of phones. While one of the original phones would be hard to track down today, theoretically you could install your entire credit card packaging with your modern SIM card still attached, and the phone would work. There’s something to remember if you ever find yourself in a Back to the Future scenario!


Tim Sim
Tim Sim

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