About Smart Cards : Applications : Telecommunications

Telecommunications Applications

Smart cards (also known as secure elements) are used extensively in the telecommunications industry worldwide. Eurosmart has reported that 5.6 billion secure elements will ship globally for telecommunications applications in 2017. Eurosmart is estimating that secure element shipments for telecommunications applications will grow to 5.6 billion in 2018.

Smart cards are used in two primary telecommunications applications – as prepaid (stored value memory cards) telephone cards and as the microprocessor smart card-based Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) or Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) in mobile phones. In addition, new NFC-enabled mobile phones that incorporate a secure element are being used for a variety of applications, including mobile contactless payments, ticketing and mobile marketing.

Smart Cards, SIMs and UICCs

A Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card is a type of microcontroller-based smart card used in mobile phones and other devices. A SIM identifies and authenticates a subscriber to a wireless cell phone network. Unless blocked by the operator, a subscriber can move his phone service to a new phone just by physically moving the SIM. SIMs also facilitate global roaming, providing subscribers with access to voice, data and other services when traveling in other countries. In addition, SIMs can store contact information and phone numbers, and can be used for other applications.

The Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) is a new generation of SIM technology optimized for newer wireless network standards. The term SIM is widely used in the industry and especially with consumers to mean both SIMs and UICCs, although they are different technologies. The UICC offers many enhanced capabilities, including better support for multiple applications and IP addressing.

SIMs and the newer UICCs are used in wireless networks based on several different standards, but the fact that they are mandatory in GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) networks has been a very significant market driver.

SIMs and UICCs are the smart card industry’s highest volume products for both units and revenue.

Pay Phones and Smart Cards

Over 100 countries use smart cards instead of coins in their pay phones to improve customer convenience and telecommunications operators’ business models (less cash, reduced risk of losses).

NFC-Enabled Mobile Applications

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology is a standards-based wireless communication technology that allows data to be exchanged between devices that are a few centimeters apart. NFC operates at 13.56 MHz and transfers data at up to 424 Kbits/second.

NFC is distinguished by its intuitive interface and its ability to enable largely proprietary wireless networking platforms to interoperate in a seamless manner. The primary uses are to:

  • Connect electronic devices, such as wireless components in a home office system or a headset with a mobile phone
  • Access digital content, using a wireless device such as a cell phone to read a “smart” poster embedded with an RF tag
  • Make contactless transactions, including those for payment, access and ticketing

Expected NFC-enabled mobile applications include:

  • Making payments with a wave or a touch anywhere contactless card readers have been deployed
  • Reading information and “picking up” special offers, coupons and discounts from smart posters or smart billboards
  • Storing tickets to access transportation gates, parking garages or get into events
  • Storing personal information that will allow secure building access

When used for mobile contactless payment, NFC-enabled mobile phones incorporate smart chips (called secure elements) that allow the phones to securely store the payment application and consumer account information and to use the information as a “virtual payment card.” NFC payment transactions between a mobile phone and a POS terminal use the standard ISO/IEC 14443 communication protocol currently used by EMV contactless credit and debit cards.

Secure Technology Alliance resources on NFC-enabled mobile applications include:

Additional information about NFC can be found at the NFC Forum.

Other Industry Resources and Organizations