In GSM-only times, the SIM consisted of the hardware and the software. With the advent of UMTS this naming was split: the SIM was now an application and hence only software. The hardware part was called UICC. This split was necessary because UMTS introduced a new application, the universal subscriber identity module (USIM). The USIM brought, among other things, security improvements like the mutual authentication and longer encryption keys and an improved address book.

"SIM cards" in developed countries today are usually UICCs containing at least a SIM application and a USIM application. This configuration is necessary because older GSM only handsets are solely compatible with the SIM application and some UMTS security enhancements rely on the USIM application.