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Apple iPhone 5 nano-SIM: what you need to know

What is this nano-SIM card used in the new Apple iPhone?

So the new Apple iPhone 5 looks to be taking a new kind of SIM card, the nano-SIM. This is even smaller than the micro-SIM used by the iPhone 4, 4S and iPad, so if you have one of these devices you won’t be able to simply swap SIM cards.

See also: iPhone 5 review.

The new nano-SIM is actually the fourth generation of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card that has been used since the introduction of GSM mobile phones in the early 1990s.

See all our iPhone 5 related stories.

The first was the size of a credit card, but never saw widespread use. It’s sometimes referred to as the first form-factor card, or 1FF. 

Most popular through the history of mobile phones is the 2FF card, known as simply a ‘SIM’, although technically it is a mini-SIM.

The Apple iPhone 4 was the first phone to popularise the micro-SIM, aka, 3FF card. When Apple adopted this smaller standard in 2010 – sized at just 15 x 12mm instead of 25 x 15mm – many users simply took their existing SIM and cut it down with scissors or a scalpel.

This was a viable, if sometime messy, solution that worked because the gold contacts were the same between the two generations of card.

mini-SIM vs micro-SIM

From right to left: micro-SIM card, mini-SIM card, and adaptor to allow micro-SIM card to be used in a mini-SIM slot. Below is the tool Apple supplied with the iPhone 4S for removing the micro-SIM tray

The new nano-SIM takes the same idea of shrinking the card, removing just a few millimetres of extraneous plastice. This new nano-SIM card measures just 12.3 x 8.8mm, and its thickness has also been reduced fractionally, from 0.76mm of the 1FF, 2FF and 3FF cards, to 0.67mm. 

At present time just before the launch of the new iPhone, we have not seen any examples of the new nano-SIM. We believe it to be once again pin-compatible with earlier generations so may lend itself to being created with some judicious shaving away of the plastic from a micro-SIM card.

But the difference in thickness, even just 0.09mm, may cause problems when a cut-down micro-SIM is inserted into an aperture designed for a nano-SIM.

The small difference between micro-SIM and nano-SIM equates to 180mm2 versus 108.24mm2 in area. It remains to be seen just how important that recovered real estate will prove to be for the component-packed innards of the modern smartphone.

We are hearing reports that network operators are stocking up on these new nano-SIM cards in preparation for the expected demand after the announcement on 12th September 2012.

If you are upgrading from another handset to the new iPhone, you could ask your operator to exchange SIM cards, or try one of their retail shops which should be carrying stocks before too long. 

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