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Secure Transactions News

The battle is over: USB chosen as the High Speed Protocol

Thursday 23 November 2006

The vote took place during an exceptional session of ETSI Smart Card Platform Technical Committee in Sophia Antipolis this Monday where telecom operators, handset makers and SIM vendors finally agreed.

USB was chosen against

  • The MMC protocol, initially supported by Gemplus, before the Gemalto merger, but that faced Intellectual Property issues when SanDisk claimed they had property rights on MMC, and they were not ready to negotiate these rights for inclusion in a standard
  • The T=1x protocol, supported by handset makers, which was an evolution of the old ISO 7816 standard. This proposal just came in very recently, seemingly as a last attempt by handset makers to counteract the USB momentum.
  • The SD technology, which was a recent addition in the battle, mainly supported by SanDisk.

The purpose of a high-speed protocol is to allow the SIM and the handset to exchange high volumes of data, leading to phonebooks with pictures to be saved on SIMs, downloading of rich content media onto the SIM etc… In the long run, this may prove an essential step towards global convergence.

There are still some remaining issues. Some of the handset manufacturers claim USB drains on electric power and will reduce the battery life and this protocol is costly to implement, meaning and extra couple dollars added to the bill of materials for each handset. They also say that no USB handset is ready yet, and that the industry will need one to two years before SIM USB "Inter-Chip"  compatible handsets are available on the market.

The USB choice as a high-speed protocol has also an impact on NFC standardization. The original creators of NFC protocol, NXP (ex-Philips semiconductors) and Sony, considered a two-wire connection to the SIM, which is no longer feasible once the USB "Inter Chip" is adopted. The remaining option is now the Single Wire Protocol (SWP), supported by Inside Contactless.

Now, the devil is in the details. The protocol still has to be adopted by the 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), and the implementation details to be written in the standard that will be ratified by mid-2007. And handset makers will only develop SIM USB "Inter-Chip" compatible handsets if they identify a strong market demand.