History of SIM cards

History of SIM cards

Over the last two decades, the mobile phone has become more and more essential to many people’s lives across the world. Every mobile phone comes with a SIM card for it to function and be useful to individuals. Further reading: What is a SIM card and how it work

This article unpacks the history of SIM cards and how they have evolved and impacted our lives throughout the years.

The 1st SIM card

The first SIM card was invented by Munich-based smart card maker Giesecke & Devrient in 1991, following its development of the ‘SIM plug-in’ in 1989. G&D sold the first 300 SIM cards to the Finnish wireless network operator Radiolinja.

The first SIM card was the size of a credit card. Since then, there have been several updates and iterations, making them smaller and smaller. Today, SIM cards are ubiquitous, allowing over 7 billion devices to connect to cellular networks around the world.

SIM card usage statistic

According to Nielsen, the usage and popularity of dual SIM handsets and multi-SIM cards has thrown up some interesting facts.

A leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy, reveals that 71 million subscribers use Multiple SIM cards across India.

Moreover, among 14 percent of multi-SIM card users who plan to buy a new handset, 75 percent intend to choose a dual SIM card handset.

Dual SIM cards are most popular in countries such as, India (66.61%), Indonesia (65.81%), Egypt (51.72%) and Ukraine (55.22%). Some surveys concluded that respondents own multiple SIM card phones, consistent across all countries apart from South Africa, which had the least multiple-SIM owners (55%).

The biggest reasons for having dual-SIM phones included, using some services on one SIM and other services on others (28%), connectivity issues in some areas by different carriers (27%) and saving money due to different prices and offers by mobile network operators (23%).

The evolution of SIM cards

evolution of SIM cards

We are unlikely to get smaller SIM cards in future, what we will probably start to see more of though is eSIMs. They are embedded SIM cards, which means you won’t have a physical card that you need to put in a phone, it will be built in instead.

The first SIM card was the size of a credit card. Since then, there have been several updates and iterations, making them smaller and smaller.

Today, SIM cards are ubiquitous, allowing over 7 billion devices to connect to cellular networks around the world.

According to reliable research, there were 5.4 billion SIM cards manufactured globally in 2016 creating over $6.5 billion in revenue for traditional SIM card vendors.

Not all phones with SIM cards work the same. There are two distinct technologies used, such as ; GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). GSM phones use SIM cards while CDMA phones do not.

1st connected SIM card in formula 1

Developed from a military technology and turned into a Formula 1 simulator, AXSIM has turned F1 into a SIM for your own home that delivers chest crushing realism in your living room.

It’s a breath-taking experience to feel the simulated compression. Combined with the feedback from the wheels, pedals, and sim suspension, it’s the closest you’ll get to racing at Spa, short of strapping yourself into a single seater.

That’s the experience that Cranfield Simulations is trying to perfect with its bespoke racing sims, which can be installed in any well-sized spare room.

The AXSIM rigs have been developed from its years of experience working with the armed forces on cutting-edge fighter jet simulations, as well as Formula 1 teams’ own in-house simulators.

SIM cards in BMW cars


From 2013, every new BMW comes with a SIM card, allowing owners to connect to the car wherever they are via a smartphone. The SIM card is permanently installed and always active, and it is integrated into the head unit of the BMW, which makes it not accessible.

The SIM card is the basic prerequisite for the use of Connected Drive as well as the fulfilment of legal requirements such as the legal emergency call.

You can download the BMW Connected app from the app store for your Android or iOS device, and you can then control many features remotely, like check the location of your car if you forget where you parked, check if it’s locked while out for dinner, or set the climate control to cool it on a hot day or warm the cabin in winter.

History of SIM card sizes

SIM cards were developed in 1991 by Munich smart-card maker Giesecke and Devrient (G&D). The first SIM cards were the size of credit and bank cards, sizes were reduced several times over the years, so that a larger card could be cut down to a smaller size.

If you don’t know how a sim card looks like, a SIM card basically looks like a small piece of plastic but plays such a big role in our daily communication.

Here are the different types of SIM cards you can use.

Standard SIM cards
They measure 25X15mm and are used in older and basic phones, which may also be referred to as old generation cell phone.

Micro SIM cards
They measure 15X12mm and are likely to be found in in phones from 2010 upwards, such as Apple iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy and many more.

Nano SIM cards
These measure 12.3X8.8mm and are used in newer and latest smartphones, such as Apple iPhone 5, iPad Air, iPad mini and many more.

eSIM/embedded SIM
Measure 6X5mm and the SIM card is installed in the phone already. The SIM cards are activated remotely by the network provider.

The first dual SIM card phone

Released in the late 2000s, the first phone to include dual SIM functionality was the Benefon Twin. Dual SIM phones have become popular especially with business users due to reduced costs by being able to use two different networks, with one possibly for personal use or based on signal strength or cost, without requiring several phones.

Today, here are some of the best dual-SIM phones used by individuals and businesses.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra  
Google Pixel 6 Pro 
Oppo Find X5 Pro 
OnePlus Nord 2  
Samsung Galaxy S22+  
Xiaomi 12 
OnePlus 10 Pro
ZTE Axon 30 Ultra
Dual-SIM phones

Launch of prepaid SIM cards

A prepaid SIM card is a SIM card can be used to provide mobile phone service in countries where no other form of communication is available, such as when travelling to a remote area without an active cell phone signal.

GSM prepaid SIM cards were launched in 1996. GSM is the main network used around the world, especially in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Prepaid SIM cards are convenient for people who don’t want to be tied to one provider with a long-term contract. They are especially useful for people who travel frequently who want to use their phone abroad without paying international roaming charges.

eSIM and the future of SIM cards

The term eSIM is a new type of SIM card. It has no physical form, and no physical swapping over is required. Although this technology needs to be supported by the network or carrier and enabled by them, not all networks support eSIM.

An eSIM is a small chip inside your phone and works similarly to the NFC chip used for payment techs like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

However, the introduction of embedded-SIM (eSIM) and remote SIM provisioning (RSP) from the GSMA may disrupt the traditional SIM card ecosystem with the entrance of new players specializing in digital SIM card provisioning and other value-added services for mobile network operators.

The future of SIM card technology has already begun to make the tangible card disappear, instead replacing it with a chip embedded on the device’s circuit board that carries out the functions of the Nano SIM.

To conclude

Embedded SIM cards are with no doubt the future technology as they are now taking over physical SIM cards. This article unpacks the history of SIM cards and how they have evolved and impacted our lives throughout the years.

SIM card history FAQs

1. Why did SIM cards get smaller?
SIM cards have shrunk primarily because the bits that were removed were essentially wasted space and space comes at a premium in a smartphone.

2. What does a SIM card do?
SIM cards are computer chips that hold information and allow you to connect with your network.

3. Can a phone work without a SIM card?
Yes, Mobile phones can work without a SIM card.

4. Who invented a dual SIM card?
The dual SIM card was originally invented and patented by Siemens AG in the 1990s.

5. What is a prepaid SIM card?
A prepaid SIM card is a SIM card that does not come preloaded with credit.