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The Global Association for the Mobile Communications Industry (GSMA) has certified Qualcomm for integrated SIMs (iSIMs) on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. Qualcomm is renowned for producing some of the most potent mobile chipsets.
The first commercially available platform that supports iSIM also happens to be Qualcomm’s fastest chipset. In addition to serving as a central processing unit (CPU), mobile processors also incorporate cellular radio support and graphics processing units (GPUs).
Enter eSIMs, a relatively new standard that permanently solders a small chip to the phone’s motherboard in place of the physical, removable SIM card. These were introduced to the Google Pixel line in 2017, the iPhone in 2018, and some Samsung phones in 2021. For a few models, they coexisted with physical cards. When Apple eliminated physical SIM cards in 2022 with some iPhone 14 models and switched exclusively to eSIM, it marked a significant turning point for most carriers.
A device with only an eSIM has no card slot and no removable cards, which simplifies device design, frees up space and eliminates a potential point of water infiltration. Instead of inserting a piece of plastic into the phone, you provision your device using an app, typically by logging into your account with your carrier. The smallest chips in eSIMs, which offer significant size savings over physical cards, measure approximately 2.5 x 2.3 mm.
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If you want to make the most of every square millimeter of a phone, then eSIMs cannot be the solution. eSIMs are still a chip that takes up space on your motherboard. An Integrated Subscriber Identity Module (iSIM) is the first step toward less occupied space. iSIMs are directly integrated into the SoC, as opposed to a chip on the motherboard. Smartphones are made possible by SoC (system on a chip) integration technology.
The CPU, GPU, RAM, modem, and numerous other components are all combined into a single, multifunctional piece of silicon rather than being spread across a thousand small chips. Making motherboard traces to connect everything and dealing with chip packages result in individual chips requiring more space and power.
The cheapest, most space-efficient, and the most power-efficient way to do things is to build everything on one chip with the tiniest transistors you can gather. As a result, SIM cards will vanish into that big block of stuff. As a component of the SoC, iSIMs will be fractions of a millimeter in size and will continue to get smaller every year as chip process nodes reach ever-smaller nm measurements. It appears that this is the pinnacle of SIM technology, which will not only benefit phones but also ever-smaller gadgets like smartwatches.
An iSIM can be used in the same way that an eSIM is registered. Since iSIM already works with carriers that accept eSIMs, Qualcomm anticipates that by 2027, more than 300 million iSIM-capable devices, or 19% of all eSIM shipments, will be in use.