Nokia has finally decided to support the SD memory card format.

Signing a licensing agreement for the cards, the world's largest mobile manufacturer said it would continue to support its royalty free MultiMediaCards (MMC) format. The decision will bring the company in line with the rest of the market.

Users accustomed to removing the memory card from one of their electronic devices and plugging it into another will soon be able to do the same with Nokia's phones.

Nokia's decision is due to the growing popularity of this type of flash memory technology in the consumer electronic sector, according to Timo Poikolainen, vice president of technology marketing. "SD cards are already available today in a wide range of consumer electronic products, such as digital cameras, media players and PDAs," Poikolainen said. "Users can store almost any type of data on them, such as games, music or personal information, and use this data in multiple devices."

The SD memory card is slim and compact, designed to be moved easily among different appliances, according to Poikolainen. Current capacity is 1GB but "continues to grow," Poikolainen said. The card can write and read data at a rate of up to 10Mbit/s. Nokia expects to have SD-enabled handsets commercially available in the second half of 2005.

Nokia continued to talk up MMC however. "MMC has certain advantages over SD, so we will continue to support it in many mobile devices," Poikolainen said. One advantage is that MMC is free from licensing, so it's cheaper. Another is that it is designed to operate at lower voltage so mobile devices will have longer battery life. And the MMC road map now includes the development of a serial interface that will provide higher data transfer speeds.

The MMC standard, introduced in 1997, grew out of a joint development between SanDisk and Infineon. The MuliMediaCard Association, consisting of 160 members including Nokia, charges no royalties for using the standard.

Unlike MMC memory cards, SD cards feature copy protection. A copy protection mechanism is embedded in all SD cards and can be used to protect copyright content such as commercially distributed music and movie files.

It's a feature, though, that Nokia prefers not to see wired into the hardware. "DRM is vital to the digital media industry," Poikolainen said. "But we believe that this mechanism should be associated with the content rather than with the media card. In other words, we think a better long-term solution is for DRM to be developed independent of storage type."

Nokia and other companies are addressing DRM within the Open Mobile Alliance, a group of nearly 200 companies that are establishing mobile service specifications to ensure interoperability of services across countries, operators and mobile terminals.

Nokia also applied for membership in the SD Card Association and aims to take up DRM as one of its first issues, Poikolainen said. "It's difficult to say where the discussion will go, but we want to have a DRM solution that is memory-card independent," he said.