Industry Insights


October 01, 2014

IC-USB – High Speed Interface for UICCs

Article published in COMPRION Customer Magazine “Testability Times“, September 2014

Origin of the High Speed Smart Card Interface

Several years ago, some groups in the standardization community were completely absorbed with discussing the future of terminal and smart card interfaces. One of the most discussed topics was the so-called High Speed Interface where MMC, T=11 and InterChip USB were fighting to become the future standard communication protocol between terminal and SIM cards. Use cases like smart card web server (SCWS) and picture phone book stored right on the UICC increased the importance to seek a faster way of transmitting big amounts of data between terminal and card. As, after lengthy discussions, no consensus could be reached between the involved players, IC-USB was finally voted to be the winner by ETSI. With substantial contributions to the specialist task force brought about by the ETSI board, COMPRION was at the fore front of drafting the IC-USB test specification. Although this IC-USB standard was fully developed, at the end of the day, it was ‘just’ a replacement for the well-established ISO 7816 protocol. To the same extend as UICC-based services like SCWS sank into obscurity, IC-USB never reached the envisaged importance.

The Second Chance

As many NFC services use the UICC as Secure Element (SE) to ensure secured NFC transactions via the Contactless Frontend (CLF) for mobile payment, ticketing or royalty services, a lot of focus was given to the Single Wire Protocol (SWP), the smart card interface towards the CLF. The Mobile-CLF-SE part of the NFC architecture has become rather stable. So have the remote management and administration procedures of the UICC. Especially remote application and file management for NFC services account for ever-growing data packages being transferred between the terminal and the card. Therefore, the need for
speedier ways to load such data onto the UICC is raising the requirements for the terminal-UICC interface again. Thus, IC-USB is moving back into focus. These requests are particularly triggered in Asia, where a lot of NFC services have been launched lately.

COMPRION has already implemented most of the IC-USB test cases defined today. Starting at the electrical level and covering also timing and protocol parameters of the different IC-USB modes. However, most test cases focus on the activation phase. If IC-USB was applied in real services, according to experts, it would be essential to complete test case coverage.

IC-USB is actually not just one technology but comprises three:


  1. APDU Transfer
    This is the replacement for ISO 7816, but allows data transfer at a roughly 20 times
    higher rate

  2. Ethernet Emulation Model
    The EEM allows addressing the UICC via standard IP channels, enabling a web application to run right on the smart card that can be displayed by the terminal’s browser

  3. Mass Storage
    This mode allows to store files on a UICC, quite similar to a regular USB thumb drive or a microSD card


Download Testability Times 2014

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