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Apple developing open SIM for iPhone service, RFID sales

Apple is reportedly working with chip manufacturer Gemalto to deliver an iPhone SIM card capable of working with multiple carriers, allowing users to shop for mobile service directly from the Apple Store. The deal likely also involves authentication for contactless, RFID mobile transactions.

According to a report by Gigaom, the codeveloped SIM would be integrated into future iPhones to enable users to activate service without having to call or visit a mobile carrier after purchasing their phone.

Instead, users will be able to shop for service from competing carriers right as they purchase their phone. Currently, users must set up a contract with and obtain a special, carrier-specific (and carrier-locked) SIM card from a given provider after they purchase their iPhone.

The new Gemalto SIM, the report notes, "is embedded in a chip that has an upgradeable flash component and a ROM area. The ROM area contains data provided by Gemalto with everything related to IT and network security, except for the carrier-related information. The flash component will receive the carrier related data via a local connection which could be the PC or a dedicated device, so it can be activated on the network. Gemalto will provide the back-end infrastructure that allows service and number provisioning on the carrier network."

In addition to saving iPhone customers the step of having to visit a mobile provider to obtain a carrier-specific SIM, a programable SIM could also enable users to roam across regions and obtain service without requiring a unique SIM for each different location.

Open SIM, contactless transactions

While observers have hailed the concept as a way for Apple to open up the market for phone service to increased competition, a larger aspect of the reported Gemalto-Apple partnership is likely to involve NFC (near field communications), a technology that enables users to authenticate themselves with electronic terminals in order to make retail purchases, obtain tickets, and perform other transactions using RFID (radio frequency identification).

Gemalto already operates as a Trusted Server Manager to facilitate secure, contactless purchases using NFC technology. Additionally, Apple has already filed patents and hired a product manager, and has reportedly started testing prototypes of iPhones using NFC features.

Working with an established NFC expert to deliver a SIM-based way to make contactless transactions from iPhones could quickly establish Apple as a major player in handling secure authentication for convenient retail transactions. Tied into iAd, such a position would enable Apple to woo advertisers with the prospect of immediately translating marketing opportunities in to sales.