The SIM (= Subscriber Identity Module) card identifies the user in the network. All GSM-based phones use the same size of chip, but the plastic frame around it, comes in 3 different sizes:
- Mini SIM (= 2FF): 25 x 15 mm. This used to be the standard for many years from 1996 and still is the most common size around.
- Micro SIM (= 3FF): 15 x 12 mm. Beginning with iPad and the iPhone 4 in 2010, this smaller size was introduced and more and more new devices are using it now.
- Nano SIM (= 4FF): 12.3 x 8.8 mm. Starting with the iPhone 5 in 2013 an even smaller and 10 % thinner card was introduced. This size is now used in iPhones and iPads, some Nokia, Motorola and Sony phones among others.
While the “standard” = mini size is always available, it can be harder to get micro or even nano SIMs. Most providers now offer combined double or triple-size cards (also called hybrid cards, see picture) with perforations in the three appropriate sizes. Not having these available, SIM cards are often cut to size by scissors or blades. The sellers are normally experienced with it, but you should better check, if they work right away.
While too large cards can only be cut, too small cards need to be adjusted to the bigger size using an 'adaptor' which is just a plastic frame around the chip. So if you have devices which require different SIM sizes, get a SIM in the smallest size you need and add an adaptor frame when using it in other devices. Unfortunately, these frames make you fumble the SIM into your device and can be easily lost.
eSIM (embedded SIM) Edit
eSIM means embedded SIM and has the SIM integrated in the hardware of the device instead of a chip printed on a separate card. The GSM Association agreed to a common standard in 2015. They were first developed for M2M (Machine-to-Machine) applications, but have been introduced to some devices in 2016, but still await market break-through.
In the future manufactures hope to issue more compact designs and providers promise a more flexible handling of different operators. By replacing a seperate SIM card, you will not be able to lose your SIM anymore or need to fumble around with tiny chips. While these aspects sound very good, there are some major flaws.
On regular SIM cards users have the unrestricted choice of different carriers and plans by the particular SIM card (= plan) they put in their phone. This can be severely affected in the future by any agreement between provider and manufacturer of which operators or plans are allowed to be used on a particular device.
Activation is done on eSIM modules by a choosing a plan and operator through the software installed on this device. Which plans are offered can be much more easily restricted in the future. Operators together with manufacturers are going to have complete control of which plans to choose by simply not offering alternatives or blocking any 'unauthorized' uses.
It's still unclear how far this will interfere with SIM swapping as recommended in this Wiki or whether e.g. dual-SIM phones will still be technically viable. Providers expect to replace the common SIM card by eSIM in all consumer devices within the next decade. Whether this will come true, remains to be seen. Unless the new SIM proves to be as flexible as the old, you should better stay away from eSIM devices, if you want to keep on changing SIM plans as unrestricted as shown on this Wiki.