Switching IPhone Sim Cards: Standard vs. MicroSim

A friend of mine is getting a new iPhone 4 by using his wife’s upgrade eligibility. The plan? Take the Sim cards from his current 3GS and the new handset, switch ‘em and give the wife the older phone. The strategy would’ve worked seamlessly — except for that pesky MicroSim card tray in the new handset.

I was going to give him grief for being so greedy and taking his wife’s upgrade, but it turns out, she wants his old 3GS. (With its rounded back, she prefers the way it fits in her jeans and purse.) Well okay, if she’s fine with it, who am I to argue? Then I asked him if he noticed that part of the WWDC keynote — or the thousands of blog posts that followed — stating that the new phone would have one of those smaller MicroSims, just like the iPad. (The reason, says Jobs, is to save some room inside the device.)

Indeed he did notice that. And, it turns out, he has a plan.


Fast facts:
Sim cards are what allow a phone to identify itself and communicate with a carrier’s network. In other cases, it can also store stuff like contacts and other data. But since iPhones sync all that via either iTunes or over the air, our Sim cards don’t actually contain this info. (So in other words, without a Sim, our iPhones are basically iPod Touches.)

Standard Sims and MicroSims both have chips that are electronically the same, as confirmed by the GSM association. So the only difference is the extra plastic casing around it the chip’s embedded on.


So the challenge, as he saw it, was figuring out how to get his standard Sim from the 3GS to fit in the 4’s MicroSim card tray. And then, how to up-size the the 4’s MicroSim (his wife’s) to fit in the 3GS standard tray. (EDIT: My friend is using his iPhone on T-mobile.

If he was on an AT&T Family Plan with his wife, this swap would’ve been far simpler. In fact, the carrier or Apple itself could take care of it for him. For more on this, see below.)

With the arrival of the iPad 3G, plenty of resources cropped up for dealing with the Sim/MicroSim size differential. (A lot of people wanted to use their Sims interchangeably between the iPhone and iPad to share the data, instead of getting two independent plans.) And thanks to crafty Sim hackers and swift-moving entrepreneurs, there are a lot of ways to approach the size dilemma.

A little Googling reveals that the previous iPhone models’ Sims are trimmable to fit a MicroSim card tray without loss of function — at least in the iPad 3G. Obviously, no one’s tried this with an actual iPhone 4, since they’re not out yet.

But the early predictions look good. MicroSims have already proven to work in older model iPhones (see video at bottom), with the addition of an adaptor of some sort to up-size the card. (And if you presume that AT&T doesn’t sanction this, you’d be right. So proceed at your own risk, if you decide to give any of these hacks a go.)

That said, here are some resources* we found:

There are a few different ways to cut down a standard-size Sim card. For the brave, but unsure, there’s SIMCut, a stick-on guide for sale for almost $10 USD (shipped from Europe). It’s a transparent sticker foil that shows the cut lines when you adhere it right to your Sim.

Then for the inordinately brave, there’s always the freehand approach using a cleaver. (Yikes!)

To be fair, the cleaver in this tutorial is just used to score the cut lines, in this case, on a Vodafone Sim card. You’d actually use scissors to trim it down. Of course, if you have access to a laser cutter, you might be interested in Brandon Shigeta’s techtastic hack instead.

But most of us will probably use Xacto knives or scissors, and there are several online tutorials using those. Here’s another one from TouchUserGuide.

There are also specialized hand tools due to come out next month. These proclaim they will precision-cut your standard Sim card down into a neat little MicroSim size. (I have to hand it to the Europeans — if it’s one thing they know, it’s definitely Sim cards.)

One called Cut My SIM also includes an adapter that lets you reverse-fit your MicroSim card into a standard size Sim. The site has started taking pre-orders for shipping to locations worldwide, including the UK, Canada, and the U.S. (US residents, there’s also a introductory special for $25 USD if you order in June.)

RebelSimCard also has a cutting tool for pre-order, but it’s not apparent if it includes the adapter. Looks pretty similar to Cut My Sim, but it’s selling for less, at $14.78 USD. (We’re not familiar with RebelSimCard, but if you are, please weigh in on your impressions below.)

If all you need is help with is up-sizing a MicroSim, then you’re in luck! Some sites sell the adapters alone (often for less than $10 USD) — like MicroSim-Shop or MicroSim2Sim.

In the case of MicroSim2Sim, it offers a cheap price (at $6.50 USD) for the adapter and includes a handy sizing sticker that’s similar to the SIMCut foil sticker mentioned earlier. You just paste it onto a standard sized card, and it shows you where to cut.

But there’s also a DIY approach to adding more surface area. If you’re determined not to spend a cent on these hacks, here’s one way you could go: This guy did it using a cut-out credit card.

For the full instructions on how to do it, click here. And to see evidence of this hack’s success, check out the vid below showing it working in an iPhone 3G.

A big thanks to my friend (who wishes to remain nameless) for letting me share his story (and some of his resources).

So what do you think? Will anyone be trying any Sim hacks? Or know of any options or resources that’s missing? Add to the list by commenting below. And if anyone’s had any firsthand experience with this — good or bad — be sure to weigh in.

*Today’s iPhone offers this for informational purposes, with no guarantees or representations as to its completeness or accuracy. If you choose to try any of these products or hacks, you do so at your own risk and assume full responsibility for the outcome. Neither AT&T nor Apple condone the unauthorized use of Sim or MicroSim cards in any iPhone models.

NOTE: Readers Breadbox and billnewl point out a pretty obvious omission here — the most elegant solution to this dilemma is to just hit up AT&T. Breadbox notes that the carrier will let people on a Family Plan use each other’s upgrades, while billnewl suggests purchasing a new set of Sim cards. So simple, so brilliant. Thanks, guys.

As for my friend, I’m not sure if he’s currently using AT&T or Tmo, so if it’s the former, it would be quite the “Duh!” answer. But if it’s the latter one, then he — and others like him — might be relegated to chopping up that card. And that may be okay. If he does it once, he’ll know how to do it no matter his GSM carrier in the future.

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