Another day, another dollop of patent absurdity with the news that the technical specifications of the much-vaunted new "nano-SIM" for mobile devices will be delayed because vested interests are in dispute over patent rights. Nokia of Finland is threatening to take its ball home and bring the game to an end because it doesn't like what Apple is proposing. Martyn Warwick reports.
It is expected that if (or, hopefully, when) an agreement can eventually be forged between the warring parties the next generation "nano-SIM" will be a third smaller than the current iteration, allowing the trend for ever-slimmer, lighter and smaller mobile devices to continue - minimally.
The regulatory specification of the proposed new SIM card falls to ETSI (the European Telecommunications Standards Institute) and this august body is trying to play honest broker in developing the new standard whilst also being expected to act as an impartial referee in a bad-tempered spat between interested parties rather more keen to protect their own self-interest than act for the benefit of the global telecoms community as a whole.
ETSI is struggling to hammer-out a consensus between - in this particular instance - Nokia and Apple. The iPhone company really wants to do away with the SIM card altogether but knows that no other manufacturer or operator will countenance such a radical proposal. Thus, as a second-best alternative, Apple intends to manufacture its own version of the new SIM and offer them (royalty -free, allegedly) to other handset makers.
Unsurprisingly this proposal has been greeted with deep suspicion by the rest of the mobile device manufacturing community who smell a rat - or rather get a whiff of an expensive and possibly stultifying lock-in to a US-owned and dominated new standard in the years to come.
Nokia, struggling to maintain its place amongst the pantheon of mobile all-stars as its market share falls and its once all-pervasive industry influence drops like stone along with it, claims that its new SIM will be 23 per cent smaller than current ones and is much more closely-aligned to ETSI's technical requirements.
Among these is a ruling that the next generation SIM card must be sufficiently and evidently of such a different form factor to today's that the vast majority of handset owners around the world will not damage their mobile devices by forcing wrong cards into them.
Nokia says Apple's design is exactly the same length as the current iteration of the SIM card is wide and that this is a recipe for consumer disaster as millions of them will inc deed try to hammer a square peg into a round hole thus causing untold damage to handsets.
The Finnish firm says Apple's design is in breach of ETSI's brief and adds a that it will not permit the use of more than 50 of the patents it holds (and believes to be crucial to the development of the nano-SIM) if Apple's proposal is adopted.
Nokia has found firm allies in Motorola Mobility (which is being bought by Google) and RIM; companies equally worried that their place in the market will be damaged, perhaps irrevocably, if Apple wins the day (although the value of RIM's support for Nokia will be minimal given last week's news about the parlous commercial state of the maker of the BlackBerry).
Pulling no punches, Mark Durrant, Director of Communications at Nokia said,"We are not prepared to get into a position where our technology is used to implement a standard that is technologically inferior, and doesn't meet ETSI's own requirements". He added that the concept of Apple offering royalty-free use of its SIM-related IPR is akin to the iPhone maker "offering a bicycle in order to borrow our Mercedes".
Meanwhile an increasingly desperate RIM has written to ETSI to complain that Apple is trying to fix the vote in its own favour. RIM claims that Apple representatives have re-registered and changed their "affiliations" to other companies such as Bell Mobility, KT Corporation and SK Telekom in an effort to vote for the Apple SIM card design, "by proxy".
The net result of the spat is that the vote on the new standard has now been postponed until the end of June - and could be put off again if no agreement can be reached then. European manufacturers and telcos are wary of finding themselves in thrall to US companies no matter how benign they may seem when offering what seems to be a free sweetie but might turn out to be a poison pill and there is every chance that the dispute will continue for quite some time.
With so many manufacturers now having hitched their stars to the nano-SIM wagon there seem to be few, if any, who extoll the virtues of the current version. But they do the job well and you don't (necessarily) require consumers to use a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass to move them from one handset to another. Surely, if the mobile device makers are so concerned about freeing-up space on a handset, it would be more sensible, better all round and more profitable to they turn their attentions to making batteries smaller, lighter and longer-lasting. Users would applaud that
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