I am sure you have already heard of Gemalto's (worlds largest SIM manufacturer and supplier) Facebook on the SIM announcement. The advantage of this approach is that 100% of the existing phones will be able to support facebook (if the operator supports the application on the SIM). This is a big step0 forward. The press release says:
Gemalto’s software development team has embedded the software application into the SIM. This ensures the Facebook application is compatible with 100% of SIM-compliant mobile phones.
The innovative solution provides mobile subscribers with simple and convenient access to core Facebook features such as friend requests, status updates, wall posts or messages. It also offers unique functions: people can sign up for this service and log in directly from the SIM application. Interactive Facebook messages pop-up on the phone’s screen so people can always share up-to-the-minute posts and events. One can also automatically search their SIM phonebook for other friends and send them requests.
Facebook for SIM is extremely easy to use and is available to everyone. No data contract or application download is needed, because the software is embedded in the SIM and it uses SMS technology. As a result, it works for prepaid as well as for pay-monthly customers. Following an initial limited free trial period, Facebook for SIM then operates on a subscription model via an unlimited pass for a given period of time.
“Facebook for SIM enables operators to leverage two of their main assets: the SMS to communicate with the web application and the SIM for application distribution to the masses,” added Philippe Vallée, Executive Vice President, Gemalto. “Over 200 million people already use Facebook on handsets and those are twice as active as non-mobile users . By providing anytime, anywhere availability to the social network, Gemalto delivers on the growing demand for mobile connectivity all over the world.”
The SIM-based client isn't as pretty as its smartphone contemporaries – don't expect picture streams or sliding interfaces – but it was developed with the help of Facebook, and provides text-menu-based interaction with Facebook – including status updates, pokes and friend requests – to any GSM-compatible handset through the magic of the GSM SIM Toolkit and Class 2 SMS messages.
The SIM Toolkit is part of the GSM standard and thus supported on just about every GSM handset, from the dumbest PAYG talker to the latest iGear. It allows the SIM to present menu options to the user, collect responses, and pop up alerts when new data arrives, which is all that's necessary for a basic Facebook client.
Modern handsets also allow the SIM to make TCP/IP data connections, but Gemalto is eschewing that for Class 2 SMS to ensure compatibility with the most basic handsets, and networks.
Class 2 SMS messages are delivered direct to the SIM without the user being involved, so can update friends' status messages and deliver a poke or two. The application running on the SIM then prods the handset into alerting the user.
That user's own updates are sent over SMS too, following a status change or wall posting client pastes that into an SMS, which is sent silently on its way.
How, or if, the network operator charges for all those messages flying about isn't clear. Gemalto won't name operators yet but claims to be talking to one operator who reckons that Facebook is eating half its bandwidth, and another who's already working on SIM distribution strategies.
Not that a new SIM is necessarily required – SIMs are field upgradable, though few operators deploy them with sufficient empty space for an application like this and issuing replacement SIMs is probably easier from a marketing point of view.
As I have been working on SMS for the last few weeks, I decided to dig a bit deep into what these Class 2 SMS are.
Classes identify the message's importance as well as the location where it should be stored. There are 4 message classes.
Class 0: Indicates that this message is to be displayed on the MS immediately and a message delivery report is to be sent back to the SC. The message does not have to be saved in the MS or on the SIM card (unless selected to do so by the mobile user).
Class 1: Indicates that this message is to be stored in the MS memory or the SIM card (depending on memory availability).
Class 2: This message class is Phase 2 specific and carries SIM card data. The SIM card data must be successfully transferred prior to sending acknowledgement to the SC. An error message will be sent to the SC if this transmission is not possible.
Class 3: Indicates that this message will be forwarded from the receiving entity to an external device. The delivery acknowledgement will be sent to the SC regardless of whether or not the message was forwarded to the external device.
You can also read this for more details on SMS message contents