The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is scheduled to take a vote on the nano-SIM standard next week. The proposed designs -- one backed by Apple and the other by Nokia, RIM and Motorola Mobility -- will allow smartphone vendors to build even smaller devices as the size of SIM cards is cut by a third compared to the current microSIM standard used on the iPhone and a few Android phones.

Apparently there's some friction over which design represents the best alternative, however. On one side Apple is pushing for a version that will require a tray to hold the card, a design element already present on both the iPhone and iPad, whereas the competing design led by Nokia is said to have "significant technical advantages."

Whichever way the decision goes the SIM design would be licensed to any organization that wants to use it. If there are patent claims essential to implement the nano-SIM standard, ETSI would request that they be licensed under so-called fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. That said, there's no way of guaranteeing the licensing process would go smoothly; currently both Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics are using standard-essential patents in their respective legal battles with Apple.

Another point of contention is that whichever side loses would have to redesign upcoming handsets to accommodate the winning nano-SIM design -- though realistically either option will require design tweaks.

It's being reported that "most" European carriers have sided with Apple, but nevertheless Nokia controls a majority of votes in the ETSI's chambers with a total of 92. Meanwhile, the Cupertino-based giant is trying to significantly increase it voting power before next week's ETSI meeting by registering six different European subsidiaries as voting bodies, each of which can have as many as 45 votes.

Regardless of which side wins, the end result should be slimmer devices for consumers, hopefully not at the expense of convenience with a design that makes switching SIM cards troublesome.

iPhone 4S SIM card removal image via iFixit.