Apple has been getting up noses again: this time over terms and conditions around a new nano-SIM standard. By Ian Scales.
In reality this story may have begun when Apple first started talking about the possibility of getting rid of the mobile phone SIM entirely, an idea which didn't appeal to most network operators and, indeed, many phone vendors.
SIMs, of course, are often seen as an important glue in the business model for one thing, and while smartphones are clearly smart enough to accommodate a 'virtual' SIM, lesser phones are not.
Ever since, anything involving SIMs and Apple have been greeted and treated with a great deal of suspicion by other players.
So Apple's proposals for a 'nano' SIM - even smaller than the micro SIM - was always going to be viewed carefully.
Who needs a new SIM?
Any saving in hardware bulk - even just a few millimeters - is always welcomed in the phone-building business. In addition, a nano SIM simply reduces design constraints when it comes to developing new devices. And, where SIMs are required in M2M applications, a smaller form factor helps with device miniaturisation.
So Apple's proposal for a tiny nano-SIM seemed sensible on a few levels and has received backing from most of Europe's carriers. But it has competition from a rival nano-SIM proposal from Nokia, RIM and Motorola which is viewed as being less smartphone-oriented.
But the plot thickened when it became clear that Nokia and RIM and Motorola (at least) were also worried about Apple's motives. They accused the company of looking to tie the SIM up with its own intellectual property. Apple denied this and made clear that it would commit to a royalty-free license if its plans were accepted by ETSI.
The ins and outs have been followed closely by independent intellectual property analyst Florian Mueller, who concluded that Apple has subsequently allayed fears that it was up to no good..
"through an unequivocal commitment [in a legal letter he was shown] to grant royalty-free licenses to any Apple patents essential to nano-SIM, provided that Apple's proposal is adopted as a standard and that all other patent holders accept the same terms in accordance with the principle of reciprocity.
This shows that Apple is serious about establishing the nano-SIM standard rather than seeking to cash in on it. Last year I reported on two different stories about disagreements between Apple and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Let's face it: Apple is a company that values its intellectual property and rarely gives it away for free.
But as far as the evolution of SIM cards is concerned, Apple is clearly being generous and absolutely pro-competitive.
Apple's smart (card) move puts a lot of pressure on other companies in the industry. They can no longer claim that Apple will control this new standard, if it does become one, with its patent rights. Instead, they should now step up to the plate and match Apple's offer. In particular, Google is an outspoken advocate of open standards at the EU level, in its own name and through such organizations as Openforum Europe.
Unless Chinese regulators still block the deal, it will soon own Motorola Mobility, and for that event, Google should now declare that it will support Apple's reciprocal, royalty-free licensing proposal, in the event that the nano-SIM standard gets adopted, and that it will support royalty-free licensing even if a competing standard won the vote. Openforum Europe, which constantly makes calls on European governments in connection with royalty-free standards, might encourage its member Google to do so, just to avoid the impression of open double standards..... Wherever one stands on Apple's assertions of multitouch patents and other non-standard-essential intellectual property rights, Apple's attitude toward standard-essential patents sets an example that others, particularly Google, should follow."
But from a European technology company point of view, this 'generous' offer is not only cynical, but symptomatic of the way that Apple is hollowing out the business models of others in the mobile value Web, being no more than "an attempt to devalue the intellectual property of others," according to Nokia.
Quite apart from anything else, the royalty-free nano-SIM is an empty promise because Apple doesn't actually have any essential patents in that area, claims Nokia, so it has nothing to lose. Nokia, however, does presumably have claims and these, if its proposals win, will be be licensed under the usual fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms used in ETSI standards.
Nokia also argues for its proposals on practical grounds. It says its card will have a different form factor while Apple's proposed card has the same length as the width of current micro SIMs, and would risk jamming if users tried to force it into devices, leading to card and product damage. In addition the Apple proposal requires a tray, which increases cost, takes up more room and just reduces the advantages of having a smaller card.
ETSI is to at least start its decision process next week.
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