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From GSM to LTE: An Introduction to Mobile Networks and Mobile Broadband by Martin Sauter

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1.10 The SIM Card

Despite its small size, the SIM card is one of the most important parts of a GSM network because it contains all the subscription information of a subscriber. Since it is standardized, a subscriber can use any GSM or UMTS phone by simply inserting the SIM card. Exceptions are phones that contain a ‘SIM lock’ and thus only work with a single SIM card or only with the SIM card of a certain operator. However, this is not a GSM restriction. It was introduced by mobile network operators to ensure that a subsidized phone is used only with SIM cards of their network.

The most important parameters on the SIM card are the IMSI and the secret key (Ki), which is used for authentication and the generation of ciphering keys (Kc). With a number of tools, which are generally available on the Internet free of charge, it is possible to read out most parameters from the SIM card, except for sensitive parameters that are read protected. Figure 1.48 shows such a tool. Protected parameters can only be accessed with a special unlock code that is not available to the end user.

Figure 1.48 Example of a tool to visualize the data contained on a SIM card.

1.48

Astonishingly, a SIM card is much more than just a simple memory card as it contains a complete microcontroller system that can be used for a number of additional purposes. The typical properties of a SIM card are shown in Table 1.7 ...

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