eSIMs are already included in many flagship phones, and some devices are fully ejecting the well-known physical SIM card to cope with the inevitable future of eSIM.
We have seen a plethora of top-end devices embrace the technology rather than opting for a physical SIM card, and we are likely to see more of them in the future.
What is an eSIM and how is it changing the way you use your phone? Does your phone have one? Should you care? We've put together all of your likely questions below:
What is an eSIM anyway?
An eSIM – short for Embedded Subscriber Identity Model – is a digital version of the SIM card that you use to connect your phone to your network provider. It is a chip in your phone that can be reprogrammed for any network you want to use.
Think of it as the NFC chip you use for contactless payments that works with any bank where you have a bank. An eSIM is the same, but it is used to connect you to your telephone network.
Which phones use eSIMs?
Apple introduced eSIM support in the EU iPhone XR and iPhone XS (as well as in the Apple Watch 4 and iPad Pro series), while Google did the same with Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 series, the Galaxy Flip Z and the Galaxy Fold also support eSIM. These devices all use eSIMs as a dual SIM option, but the Motorola Razr is only available for eSIM: no standard SIM card is used at all.
Some laptops also have eSIMs as well as some tablets, but these are rare.
Which networks support eSIMs?
Networks around the world now support eSIMs. In the United States, for example, eSIMs work with AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless.
In Australia you can connect to Optus, Telstra, Truphone and Vodafone, while in the UK there are EE and O2. Vodafone also offers eSIM support in the UK, but so far only for the Apple Watch.
In addition to local providers, some global providers also support eSIM. You should check out Truphone, Ubigi, GigSky, MTX Connect, Readtea Mobile and Soracom Mobile.
What are the advantages of eSIMs?
There are a few. First of all, this means that pure eSIM phones are sold essentially unlocked: you simply receive the appropriate network settings from an app or via a QR code to program the eSIM, and off you go.
Second, it takes up a fraction of the storage space of a conventional SIM card, even a nano SIM card. The SIM card slot is a fairly extensive piece of hardware, and removal on a pure eSIM device makes life easier for manufacturers of smartwatches, fitness trackers, and phones. This is especially true for those who want to manufacture foldable, flexible or unusually shaped devices.
Physical SIM cards don't like to be bent. Since no connection is required for the card, one can go less wrong.
Here is a good example: think of augmented reality glasses. With physical SIM cards, you get something that makes you look like Elton John. With an eSIM, designers can be much more subtle. The same portability has an interesting impact on smart home technology and the Internet of Things: Devices with eSIMs do not have to be bound to your phone or your WiFi router.
Third, you may be able to choose who your phone connects to for different purposes. For example, you may have one line for calls and another for data because network A is great for voice, but network B has better 5G speeds, or because you are in another country and the local network for data is cheaper than usual Providers.
This is not the only big advantage for vacationers and business travelers. If your phone has an eSIM, you don't have to physically exchange SIM cards when you travel – and you don't necessarily have to change your number when you exchange networks. Because your eSIM can store multiple network details and logins, you can easily change your eSIM when you arrive in another country and start using that network immediately.
Is eSIM an industry standard?
It is. eSIM is a global specification of the GSM Association, the industry organization that represents the global mobile network operators.
eSIM is the only globally supported remote SIM specification, so you don't have to worry about a VHS / Betamax situation where there are competing and incompatible standards.