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Modules and SIM cards converge for ubiquitous wireless

08 июля 2010

The appearance of wireless connectivity in a vast range of devices from vending machines to TV sets is creating an explosion in two key technologies, both enablers of the ubiquitous web. These are modules for connectivity, and SIM cards for authentication, security and a rising number of other applications.

This week, French digital security firm Gemalto brought the two technologies closer together by acquiring Cinterion of Germany, a specialist in machine-to-machine modules which was spun out of Siemens in 2008.

A year ago, Gemalto missed out on acquiring another M2M modules firm, Wavecom, when it was gazumped by Sierra Wireless. Sierra’s purchase has delivered sound results, making it a clear market leader and seeing its M2M revenues rise from 42% to 50% of its total in 2009-10. Now Gemalto is determined to have another go, and it is paying $198.7m for the privilege. Cinterion has about 20% of the M2M market, and this translated to revenues of $179m last year, less than Sierra’s $221m in M2M (which only included three quarters with Wavecom). Sierra expects to make $88.7m from M2M in its first quarter.

The new owners of these M2M specialists are coming from different starting points, but represent the convergence of the communications module and the SIM card to create the modern wireless device.

SIMs have shrunk down over the past few years to fit into tiny embedded devices, while modules are also moving down the size scale from their initial heartlands in laptops and dongles into every kind of wireless enabled gadget. A year ago, for instance, T-Mobile USA announced an innovative embedded SIM for M2M applications. The size of a pinhead, it is designed to withstand extremes of temperature, humidity and motion for industrial usage, while offering the usual benefits of a GSM-based SIM, such as authentication, encryption and data storage.  The embedded SIM is made from silicon rather than plastic, like an in-phone card, and can be hard-mounted into M2M modules so that there is no additional work in the field to add these capabilities to systems. The operator is setting up a certification process to ensure third party software and device partners can create a common platform.

Meanwhile, the module is casting its net wider too, even finding its way into the handset, as a low cost way to create new smartphones. Ericsson Mobile Platforms, one of the leading module makers along with Qualcomm, Sierra, Novatel and Huawei, spoke of creating a smartphone module this year, as it pushes its technology beyond netbooks and into many consumer electronics and, in future, M2M devices.

So it was inevitable that the two technologies would come closer together, leading to tighter integration of authentication and security with wireless modules, reducing cost and increasing efficiency in low power devices. “We are taking the leadership position in a fast growing market, the market of smart machines that paves the way to the ‘internet of things’,” said Gemalto’s CEO, Olivier Piou, in a statement. “Together with Cinterion we can address the strong interest of our largest customers, the mobile network operators, in M2M and team up with them to offer the M2M market the right combination of advanced software, premium devices and remote management services that has historically been successful in our SIM card business.”

Gemalto may also take the next step and bypass the SIM, creating SIM-less modules where identity and authentication are directly loaded into the module. This trend has been seen in the NFC (Near Field Communications) world. NFC, the main technology for swipe-based applications like contactless payments and transportation tickets, is increasingly being incorporated into smartphones and other devices. Currently, most manufacturers favor doing this by combining NFC with a SIM card for security, but it can also be done directly using a dedicated chip. Last week, we saw Broadcom acquiring Innovision to address the rise of embedded NFC in cellphone chipsets.

The SIM card is always a popular option with carriers as it enables them to control their devices and customers - the other growing aspects of the smartphone, like storage capacity and web access, do not give the operator any influence over how the customer uses their phone. Indeed, new high density SIM cards may be a way for cellcos to offer multimedia content and applications that remain tied into their networks.

Infineon, Intel and Micron Technology have been working on taking the capacity of a SIM card beyond 128Mb, to support media-rich applications together with the usual security and access control functions. Infineon says this will be a way for carriers to offer media-rich value added services that also require access control, such as mobile banking, ticketing and content delivery.

The HD-SIM could also be a simpler way for operators to control the apps on individual handsets on their networks, including pushing downloads and updates to the user, and deleting or altering programs.


Источник: 4G Trends

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