New smartphone SIM card has faster embedded CPU core — single RISC-V core claimed to help deliver 10x storage, 10x faster transfers, improved security

China Mobile logo phone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

China Mobile has announced its upcoming CC2560A "super SIM card", the world's first SIM card with a RISC-V core onboard. The CC2560A is an IoT product which improves on every aspect of a traditional SIM card: more storage, better security algorithms, and new functionality like NFC support.  

China Mobile, the largest mobile provider in the world, held a 5G IoT product conference on Wednesday. Among other IoT solutions and new releases, China Mobile announced the RISC-V super SIM. Powered by a single RISC-V core running at 120 MHz, the company claims the new SIM offers ten times the communication rate of a standard SIM card, around two times the rate of current high-end super SIMs already seeing use in the IoT field. The RISC-V SIM's onboard flash storage capacity of 2.5MB is also ten times larger than a standard SIM's storage and twice that of other super SIMs.

Unfortunately for the power phone users in the audience, average users will not be seeing the RISC-V super SIM in their devices anytime soon — not least because the card is a China Mobile exclusive which will possess intense security features and encryption. SIM cards are needed anytime a device needs to be uniquely identified over a network; the use case we are all familiar with is as an identifier within a smartphone to our phone carriers. 

Super SIMs, considerably more powerful and versatile than traditional consumer SIMs, have already become an important product in the IoT field, allowing elite features such as multi-network connectivity and automatic network failover for highly connected devices. While thankfully your new smart fridge won't need a SIM card, super SIMs are popping up in shared rental scooters, fleet tracking devices, and digital billboards.  

China Mobile's example use cases for the super SIM include electronic student ID cards, digital car keys, public transportation, and other instances regarding controlling access. The RISC-V powered super SIM is certainly a unique product; no one would think of a boosted CPU core on a SIM card besides a company aiming to gain the dollars of a hungry IoT field. Future innovation on the chip may not see the light of day, however; U.S. lawmakers are anxiously engaged in blocking China's access to the RISC-V protocol.

Dallin Grimm
Contributing Writer

Dallin Grimm is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware. He has been building and breaking computers since 2017, serving as the resident youngster at Tom's. From APUs to RGB, Dallin has a handle on all the latest tech news. 

  • edzieba
    The RISC-V powered super SIM is certainly a unique product; no one would think of a CPU core on a SIM card besides a company aiming to gain the dollars of a hungry IoT field.
    SIM cards have contained a 'CPU core' since their introduction. The entire reason SIM cards exist is to host the Baseband Processor, which is typically RISC based.
    Reply
  • KnightShadey
    Admin said:
    China Mobile announced what it calls a 'super' SIM card, so called thanks to the single RISC-V CPU core onboard running at a blazing 120 MHz. Like many IoT solutions, the use-case of a smarter SIM card is not immediately apparent.

    Smartphone SIM card has embedded CPU core — single RISC-V core claimed to help deliver 10x storage, 10x faster transfers, improved security : Read more

    As someone from telecom focused on IoT/M2M, I can think of a lot of use cases, both beneficial and nefarious. 😈

    For just remote sensing and security in the oil patch, depending on who controls the platform and it's integration options, there's a lot of areas the form factor is beneficial.
    As they need to compete with embedded systems that do/don't need a physical sim, the benefit of the form factor is primarily universal swappability and compatibility, so any barriers to use reduce the utility.

    There have been variations of this over the years from over a decade ago, but limitations have always made them impractical vs external options with swappable identifiers.
    However we are at the point where features + miniaturization, along with lower costs to produce & design, allow mainly large/enterprise clients to build custom solutions to cut out the middle men, like SierraWireless, etc. where this becomes more and more attractive.
    It's still primarily very edge/fringe use even then, however I'm sure it'll be promoted for a wide variety of applications/solutions that could use either/or.
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    edzieba said:
    SIM cards have contained a 'CPU core' since their introduction. The entire reason SIM cards exist is to host the Baseband Processor, which is typically RISC based.
    I have never heard of the baseband processor residing on the SIM. It looks like BPs are typically integrated with the modem and/or the main SoC.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    Can a SIM card slot be used to hack a phone?

    If not yet, I'm sure somebody will find a way.
    Reply
  • jlake3
    RISC-V, 5G, and IoT? Could they not get some AI into it to complete the buzzword bingo? 😛
    Reply
  • KnightShadey
    Giroro said:
    Can a SIM card slot be used to hack a phone?

    If not yet, I'm sure somebody will find a way.

    The answer is yes, it's possible on just a standard SIM, it has been demonstrated multiple times.
    They are usually shown as proof of concept, the practical applications aren't realistic.
    As the SIM is a storage device primarily (but with other capabilities depending on type) you can store and inject code, but a lot of things need to change on the host device... which would require total control and access already... so kinda like a thief unlocking a window to let their partner in after they already got through the wide-open front door.

    However, a Smart SIM (like the above) is a different animal, and would be a lot easier to use in such a way and would have active properties of a computer not the mostly passive properties of storage.

    Hope that helps, if not then TL : DR , it's possible , but not practical.
    Reply
  • KnightShadey
    jlake3 said:
    RISC-V, 5G, and IoT? Could they not get some AI into it to complete the buzzword bingo? 😛
    LOL, yeah, Exactly! 🤣

    Although RISC has been around a while, but in grandaddy terms....

    IBM RISC , iDen , and SCADA. 🤪
    Reply
  • edzieba
    TJ Hooker said:
    I have never heard of the baseband processor residing on the SIM. It looks like BPs are typically integrated with the modem and/or the main SoC.
    Not only is there a processor on the SIM, but the applications running on that processor can be a remote attack vector, e.g. when some 2009-era legacy software still running on modern SIMs was exploited to allow remote access to the host smartphone. The majority today run Java apps, which is why you can port to and from a physical SIM and eSIM.
    Reply
  • das_stig
    Digital car keys, maybe JLR (Tata) can finally say their Chelsea tractors are secure and not so easy to get nicked.
    Reply
  • pulse7
    Spyware with microphone and direct connection to servers in China is also included for free...
    Reply