Shipments of so-called MFF2 SIM cards designed to withstand the harsh conditions of various M2M deployments rose by 42%, to 5 million, between 2011 and 2012, according to new figures released by trade association the SIMalliance.
The organization said the increase illustrates the potential of the M2M opportunity and expects to see further growth in the next few months as applications are introduced in new vertical markets.
“Business models are flourishing because of improved connectivity,” said Frederic Vasnier, the chairman of the SIMalliance, who expects the smart grid and automotive sectors to drive take-up in the near future. “The sky is the limit because of the number of machines that can be connected.”
Vasnier says it is difficult to compare M2M with consumer-device markets because government regulations and product lifecycles differ so much, but believes M2M will provide a major boost to the SIM card industry this year.
Even so, despite faltering economic conditions in many parts of the world, SIM card shipments tracked by the SIMalliance grew by 5% between 2011 and 2012, to 4.6 billion.
Growth continues to be fuelled by subscriber adoption in developing markets, where many people still lack basic phones, but new technologies like NFC and LTE are driving increases in Western Europe and North America.
Indeed, the North American market appears to be booming, with shipments rising from 164 million in 2011 to 216 million in 2012.
The transition from SIM-less CDMA systems to LTE largely explains the surge in adoption.
Most other regions also showed gains, although the SIMalliance noted setbacks in South America, as well as parts of Asia.
In Brazil, for instance, shipments were down 11% between 2011 and 2012 because regulatory authorities have stopped major operators from providing services in several regions while they investigate complaints about quality.
Meanwhile, Indian authorities have started requiring consumers to provide proof of identity when purchasing prepaid services.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was growth of 9% in Europe, to 450 million shipments, driven by the commercial deployment of NFC and LTE services.
Vasnier says this means SIMalliance members will in future be shipping much more complex products, featuring big improvements in memory and processing power.
New form factors appear to be quickly making their mark, with old-fashioned plug-in SIMs accounting for just 90% of the market in 2012, down from 96% in 2011.
So-called micro SIMs were responsible for 8% of shipments last year, with new nano SIMs forming 2% of the total.