Secure Elements (e.g. Smart Cards) are micro-processor equipped tokens, able to process and store a diverse range of applications and data. They are used as credit cards, banking cards in general, ID cards and especially as SIMs in mobile telecommunications. Several billion SIMs have gone into the market every year now for quite a number of years. While the early Subscriber Identity Modules, as SIMs are really called, were developed by an ETSI committee being a predecessor of TC SET, today’s SIMs consist of the underlying platform, called the UICC, developed by TC SET and, on top of this platform, the application developed by 3GPP.
Not all SIMs going into the market these days have the form of a “card”. The size of the very first SIMs has shrunk and shrunk over the years. Some SIMs these days come in the form of Surface Mounted Devices (SMDs) or even just chips (being embedded into a watch); security and functionality are the important factors. So TC SET is now considering Secure Elements of which smart cards are just a special case. Secure Elements can, for instance, also be incorporated into a System on Chip (SoC) solution as the current work of TC SET shows.
Our Role & Activities
The ETSI Smart Card Platform (UICC)
TC SCP was set up in April 2000 (renamed to TC SET in January 2022), to create a central focus point for the standardization of a common IC card platform for mobile telecommunication systems, allowing the participation from companies not necessarily involved in GSM & 3GPPTM standards.
The main topic in the early days of TC SET was thus to separate the underlying security platform, what became known as the UICC, from the application itself, e.g., the SIM. The aim was to create a series of specifications for a Smart Card Platform on which other industry sectors can base their system-specific applications to achieve compatibility between all applications resident on the Smart Card. The nearly 50 specifications we developed to achieve this purpose are generic and application-agnostic. As such they can be used for any application designed to reside on the UICC. They have thus found their way into other applications such as ID management and the contactless interface specified by TC SET is used in financial services. For instance, our core platform specification defining the interface between a UICC and a terminal (TS 102 221) is also one of the mandated specifications for the smart meter work item of EC and EFTA (M/441). As one of the very few standardization bodies ETSI TC SET also developed test specifications for its core documents to help to achieve developing interoperable implementations.
TC SET keeps maintaining and upgrading the UICC specifications for the Smart Card Platform. The latest work in this ongoing process is the use of the contactless interface of the UICC for applications making use of the UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) technology.
The ETSI Smart Secure Platform (SSP)
Clearly, the origin of the UICC dates back a few decades and technology is changing all the time. Though the UICC still satisfies the (security) requirements of today’s world, TC SET started a couple of years ago to think about a new security platform, the next generation Smart Secure Platform or, for short, SSP. Everything was to be re-considered, from architecture and form factor to transport protocol and file system, never forgetting the overall performance and the ecosystem it operates in.
TC SET has published so far four specifications for the SSP. They cover the requirements, the general technical characteristics, the integration of the Secure Element into a System on Chip (SoC) solution and, as the first protocol between the Smart Secure Platform and the outside world, the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI). Further specifications such as the embedded and the removable Smart Secure Platform as well as the I2C interface will follow in due course. As for the UICC, TC SET is developing test specifications for all of these.
Trust and privacy in IoT are crucial market drivers for IoT and applications relying on those. As such, our new-generation Smart Secure Platform will contribute significantly to achieving these goals.
3GPP work on SIM card and USIM evolution
The 3GPP Core Network and Terminals experts in Working Group CT6 - is responsible for work on the SIM (used by 2G), the USIM (Universal SIM) for 3GPP systems (3G, 4G(LTE), 5G) and the ISIM (IM Services Identity Module) for the IMS domain and the HPSIM (Hosting Party Subscription Identity Module) for H(e)NB.
A full list of related standards in the public domain is accessible via the SET committee page and for 3GPP WG CT6 via the standards search.