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20 years!

Week 38, 2007

A few people in the establishment of the GSM MoU had the idea of putting in a handset a smart card, which would contain all subscriber-related data. The objective was to launch commercial networks by summer 1991. The first GSM World Congress took place in 1990 in Rome with 650 highly technically skilled participants. Before 1991, the GSM MoU became an ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) technical committee, and phase 1 GSM 900 specifications were frozen.

Several tests took place, and the first public international roaming demonstration took place during the Telecom 1991 exhibition in Geneva: we discovered a Norwegian subscriber could call a Danish subscriber, both of them being on roaming on Swiss PTT network.

At that time, the industry anticipated a future in which businessmen would travel around the world with their SIM cards, and plug it in public GSM phones that would be available in many business oriented locations. The reality developed differently, and for the better! The SIM evolved from the full card format to the plug-in format, allowing for a size (and cost) reduction of the handset. The GSM handset is no longer specific to business people. GSM handsets became affordable to everyone. According to the last GSMA figures, there are 2.6 billion GSM and WCDMA users. The SIM card has evolved too: it's no longer just the holder of subscriber related information. But the SIM card plays a role as being the preferred location for security-related items in a mobile handset.

Now, what's next? According to Eurosmart 2020 vision, the smart card market will represent 20 billion cards (or better secure portable devices) yearly by 2020. Among these 20 billion, at least 4 billion will support telecom functions, including voice, data, security, content, applications, payment, etc…. There is still a lot to invent in this industry. And a lot more development is still to come.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights