Freedom for My Wireless Phone Number

Treo 650 CameraA couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet on a brand new Treo 650 smartphone, partly in anticipation of possibly getting assigned to a lengthy stint of jury duty. Imagine how dumb I felt when, in response to the heightened security brought on by the recent bombings in London, the courthouse forbade the entry of mobile phones equipped with cameras. And, naturally, I was selected last week to sit on the jury for a week-plus case. Even the best laid plans of mice and mobile phones, right?

In a way, it was actually a relief to be relieved of my mobile phone, but I can’t deny that it would have made my time away from the office more productive if I’d had my Treo 650 with me. It makes me lament the relative scarcity of Subscriber Identity Module technology, or SIM cards, at least in the United States. The idea that I could pull out a SIM card from my Treo 650 and insert it into a camera-free mobile phone — while also transferring my actual mobile phone number and contact database — is enormously appealing.

All-You-Can-Eat Phones

But even if there was in fact greater SIM card ubiquity in the U.S. market, I’d like the portability concept that underlies it to be taken much further. The fact that, by and large, most of us have only one handset in regular use for our mobile phone accounts has always struck me as pretty lame. Just as people own more than one watch — a sports model for the office, a model for day-to-day use, and maybe a dress model for special occasions — I think we should be moving towards a future where we can own (and regularly use) more than one mobile phone.

These handsets have become so cheap now that there’s no good reason that I shouldn᾿t be able to buy a few complementary models and use them whenever I want: a rugged model, perhaps equipped with a GPS unit, that I can take with me on a hike. An ultra slim model that I can tuck into my suit jacket when I head off to a formal event. A model equipped with a two-way radio for work in the field. A Sidekick-like model that will allow me to work remotely. To switch between them, all I’d need to do, in theory, is swap out some sort of SIM card or similar memory chip, which could carry my mobile account identity, i.e., my phone number and my contact list. So regardless of the particular situation, I could carry a mobile phone that suits the current requirements while still allowing the people who need to reach me to dial that same phone number.

I Wanna Be Your Wireless Slave

I know that, in a way, I’m just begging to be marketed to by the rapacious wireless carriers even more — a scenario like this offers even more opportunities for these companies to prohibitively lock-in customers. Still, I think it helps resolve a problem that I think is choking the mobile handset industry, which is trying to convince customers that a single model of phone is sufficient for all the needs they might have, at least until their next upgrade. It’s led to monolithic devices like, admittedly, the Treo 650, which features a camera that to be honest I don’t even want. It was the least interesting feature in the whole package when I was considering it as a purchase and, ironically, it’s the one feature that prevented me from using it.

With stronger SIM-like features, handset designers can focus on building innovative phones that do a few jobs very well, rather than many jobs with only marginal success. As the market for mobile phones saturates, it only follows that further productizing demand for phones in a manner similar to this is the next big opportunity. Maybe I can make some of that big money, and then I’ll buy myself a second phone.

  1. What’s stopping you from pulling out your SIM card and putting it in another phone?

    Perhaps this is an American provider issue – for us Europeans, could you elaborate on why you can’t just pop your SIM into a new phone?

  2. There are many reasons but I suppose the main one is that the Treo 650 doesn’t have a SIM card slot. That’s pretty much the show stopper for me. 🙂

  3. Here in the States, many GSM (not CDMA) phones are locked to only allow use of SIM cards from a specific carrier. You can generally go to an independent mobile phone shop (i.e. not owned by one of the carriers) and get your phone unlocked for a price.

    Oddly, some phones aren’t actually locked. The lady who sold me my Motorola v551 told we that it was locked to Cingular, but it turns out that it wasn’t — I was able to use TMobile and Vodafone SIMs in it.

    That said, I don’t think I would buy more cell phones even if they were really cheap, since swapping out the SIM card is a pain.

  4. Cingular seems the most flexible when it comes to unlocked phones… I’ve only purchased one GSM phone from the store and the rest have came from eBay.

    It’s a bit ironic that there may actually be an upcoming market of NON-camera phones…

    On an aside, I saw a laptop recently advertising the fact that it was SIM-card ready. Maybe SIM cloning will become more common as a result?

  5. The CDMA phones (Verizon and Sprint) don’t use the SIM chip. I have a Treo 600, which I am looking to replace, that is on Sprint. Due to some travel out of the country I also have a GSM phone (Nokia 3650) that has a SIM chip. I love the ability to pop out the SIM and drop it into another phone or get a local SIM for what ever country I am in for lower local calls and text messaging costs. I also love that my GSM is international ready and I can keep my local number for calling into for others.

    Having two numbers is not the best solution, but it is working for now. I have looked at Cingular for the 650, but I am in CDMA country of Verizon in the Washington, DC area and will be up and down the Eastern Seaboard, which can be less CDMA friendly than DC. I am also stumped, but the phone carriers are of very little help and are mostly completely lost in how to run their operations for those of us that want to be wireless slaves, particularly with wireless data.

    On the courtroom front, I think the camera in the phone is less a terror issue than integrity. Everybody is beginning to blame terror for all sorts of things, which to me is rather sad. In London the phones with cameras were some of the best help the police and media had in understanding what was going on. Limiting their use is quite odd in this country. I am completely lost with out my Treo/Palm as I do a lot of work on it and can function in e-mail in it rather well.

  6. Khoi: Yep, it’s your carrier’s technology which is preventing you from doing this. I have a Treo with T-Mobile service and I can pop my SIM card into any other GSM phone I’d like, whenever I want. T-Mobile and Cingular, the two major GSM carriers in the U.S., both let you freely and easily do this. Furthermore, when I’m in another country, I can buy a prepaid SIM card, pop it into my Treo, get a temporary phone number, and not get raped on tolls. GSM is where it’s at baby.

    My only complaint is that I wish I could have multiple SIM cards which were connected to the same account and phone number so I didn’t even have to do the swapping.

  7. That’s crazy, I had no idea that the US generally didn’t use sim cards. I thought they were pretty much an integral part of mobile phones. Neither I, nor anyone I’ve known has ever owned a phone without a sim card. I live in Australia, btw.

    Here, they use a technology called SIM-lock which prevents your phone from being used with any other sim card, but that’s generally only with pre-paid accounts. And if you buy your phone outright or get it on contract, you can usually stick a pre-paid sim (or any other sim) in if you want. It’s also easy to circumvent, many many tiny stores in malls will do it for $20 or so. You can spot them easily, their storefront windows are packed with every conceivable flashing light accessory you could ever want (or not want) to buy.

    Sometimes I forget how well protected the consumer is in Australia, and similar markets such as Europe. Some of the stories I hear from the US are unimaginable to me, like you guys only recently getting mobile number portability and the ability to choose a DSL provider and POTS provider independent of one another.

  8. To switch between them, all I’d need to do, in theory, is swap out some sort of SIM card.

    There’s also the option of getting a duo SIM card – two SIM cards with the same number – and you’d only need to turn off one device and turn the other on. It can even be possible to have more than two SIM cards.

    (in some operators, the devices can even be turned on at the same time, although the incoming events – e.g. voice call, sms – can end in either one, semi-randomly)

  9. Nokia’s 7280 is apparently designed as a second phone. Unfortunately it also looks like a spaceship’s ass.

    Save yourself ђ20 at the local dodgy phone shop. Unlock your phone yourself here.

  10. That’s interesting. I always assumed SIMS were de-facto in the US too. Whenever I visit for any length I just go into cingular and get a sim to pop into my phone.

    So are CDMA phones hard coded with a number, or can they be updated over the network somehow? What happens when your contract expires but you still want to use your phone?

  11. Interesting how we take things for granted, I’ve never thought my SIM to be particularly amazing…

    Can you believe that we can buy a new pre-paid SIM card here in South Africa for the equivalent of about US$0.80 🙂

  12. in the U.S., CDMA technology was widely used for many years which does not use SIMs whereas GSM does. cingular and t-mobile both use GSM networks and SIM cards. i’ve never had the problem that khoi describes because i’ve been on a GSM network with cingular for years! i’ve even taken my phone overseas and used it with only a small roaming charge. i’ll have to check into these pre-paid SIMs though when i travel. they sound like the best option.

  13. i’m using 3 equivalent SIMs here in austria via t-mobile. every card has the same number and all 3 phones ring when a call comes in.
    moto razor v3, ipaq 6340, umts data card – one for each mood 😉

  14. Damn, all this talk about SIM cards, now I’m really feeling left out. I wish I had considered more carefully before going with Verizon, but then again, the SIM cards are just one part of the equation. We also need a change to the marketing and pricing of mobile phones such that it becomes more realistic to buy several.

  15. Well here in London, we are all resting a little bit easier, knowing that you guys are doing your bit by not allowing phones with cameras into courthouses.

    Seriously, WTF?

  16. I didn’t know that in the US that mobile phones didn’t have SIM cards. In the UK, I’ve never even come across a phone that doesn’t actually have a SIM, and I’ve been through at least ten models in the past couple of years.

    Some SIMs are locked so they only work with phones that are made by the mobile phone company, and other phones are locked so only certain companies SIM cards can work on that phone. Most, don’t do this though. It’s so odd. Your points are totally valid.

    And I also agree with Marty. Living only a few miles from London, we can all rest easy that people in the US can’t take camera phones into courts. Afterall, they may contain a laser or something! /sarcasm

  17. SIM is a GSM-specific technology. It’s a shame there’s no equivalent for CDMA (or TMDA–is anyone still using that?), but there is not.

    It is possible to buy an unlocked phone, though usually for much more money than you would spend getting it through a carrier (who sells it cheap, like a razor, to hook you on the service/blades). The reason you’d want to do this is to get a phone not offered by your carrier–as long as it’s compatible, you’ll be fine. As it happens, Tmo uses the same frequencies as European carriers, so if they are your carrier, you can select from all the fun toys at shops like Cingular does use GSM, but uses different frequencies, so you’ve got fewer options.

  18. OK…. so I called T-Mobile here in the US to request another SIM card for my number since I too have two phones that I use. I am sick of switching the SIM card back and forth. T-Mobile said they don’t support that which I think is total bullocks since someone posted they have it in Austria with the same company.

    So my question is what do I do or where do I go to duplicate my SIM? To hell with T-Mobile. I have two SIM cards. Can someone help me? Thanks and cheers!

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