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eSIM: The future of SIM cards

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Like the NFC chip used in payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay, an eSIM is essentially a tiny chip within your smartphone

An integrated SIM card, also known as an eSIM, eliminates the need for a physical SIM card and, consequently, a SIM card slot on your smartphone. Though Apple’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro are switching to eSIM-only in the US, the number of devices using it has stayed comparatively modest. Still, it’s only time before other smartphone makers follow suit.

The first fully eSIM-only phone debuted as the first-generation Motorola Razr flip phone, not Apple’s. However, until now, smartphones have tended to accommodate both eSIM and traditional SIM.

Under such circumstances, these devices replace a second SIM with an eSIM. They still have room for a conventional nano-SIM, which you can use as usual, but you may add a second number or data contract via the eSIM.

Since consumers may save plans from many networks on their eSIMs, there are benefits for both device manufacturers and networks using eSIMs.

The customer may, for instance, have a data roaming SIM for abroad use or use one number for work and another for personal conversations. In addition, if one opts for the eSIM, he/she might have different voice and data plans.

What is an eSIM? What exactly will it give to its customers, then? Now let’s elaborate.

eSIM: What is it?

eSIM stands for embedded SIM, which is all it refers to. No physical SIM cards are involved, and you do not need to switch over physically. However, not all networks currently accept eSIM, and the network/carrier must support and enable it.

Like the NFC chip used in payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay, an eSIM is essentially a tiny chip within your smartphone.

Since the data on an eSIM is rewritable, you can choose to switch operators with just a quick phone call. Likewise, adding them to a data plan and linking devices with eSIMs to a mobile account takes just a few minutes.

The GSMA, the association of mobile networks, supports eSIM and has established the global standard for innovation.

Does eSim have drawbacks?

There may be fewer choices, which would be bad for customers. Devices might come pre-loaded with one particular network rather than if it is sold exclusively. For example, customers getting iPhones with Vodafone eSIM, due to the business deal between Apple and the network provider.

Additionally, eSIM users can only quickly swap phones after contacting their network. Of course, most people won’t give that any thought, but it will be off-putting for some.

Thanks to cloud backup, SIM card storage is no longer necessary for most Android or iOS users, but it does need a mental shift for those using older/less expensive phones because you can no longer physically switch a SIM card to a new phone.

Which devices are eSIM compatible?

After discontinuing dual SIM compatibility with the iPhone XS, Apple’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro are the company’s first eSIM-only smartphones, at least in the US. The iPad Pro and every Apple Watch since the Series 2 also employ eSIM.

Although it was first exclusively used in the United States with Google Fi, the Google Pixel 2 also supported eSIM. Since the Pixel 3, every Pixel phone has offered it as a choice in addition to a standard SIM. The same is valid for Samsung Galaxy phones, starting with the S20 series.

How to use an eSIM to activate Google Fi on your iPhone

The Moto Razr flip phones now have eSIM support, and both Windows 10 and 11 have eSIM support. In addition, some devices with cellular modems, like computers with Snapdragon processors, can use an eSIM as an alternative to inserting a nano SIM card.

Oppo’s Find X3 Pro phone featured the first 5G standalone (SA) capable eSIM. This development means the rollout of lower latency 5G SA networks worldwide has enabled eSIM to support the most recent 5G networking standards.

Which networks accept eSIM cards?

Some carriers offer eSIM. A carrier’s app or a QR Code one can scan is required. Once more, the page must support eSIM.

EE, O2, Vodafone, and Three all support eSIM in the United Kingdom. Users merely need to stop by a nearby store, call customer care, or download an eSIM to obtain an eSIM pack.

Let’s examine the EE SIM pack. With EE, one can get a SIM card with a conventional appearance from a similar retailer. However, there is no SIM inside; you receive instructions and a QR code that your device can use to access the information. In the same way as a standard SIM card, each eSIM pack has its unique number.

Truphone has started offering eSIM data plans independent of established carriers. These are available for purchase through the MyTruphone app. The worldwide plans from Truphone are compatible with 80 nations.

Initially only available on iOS, the software is now also usable with Pixel phones on Android.

The benefits of eSIM for travellers

Theoretically, using an eSIM should allow you to continue using your primary “home” number when travelling to another nation by simply adding a roaming eSIM to your phone. However, one drawback is that you can’t access your number, for example, if you switch SIM cards when travelling abroad.

According to Steve Alder of Truphone, eSIMs might do away with international roaming fees.

“It also allows users to swiftly switch between operators to reconnect if they are in a signal-poor location, frees up space for new features or more battery life, and may reduce the danger of device theft. Mass adoption of eSIMs will be inevitable as customers and operators begin to recognize the benefits,” he said.

What does eSIM mean for devices?

We may get smaller devices or larger batteries because a SIM card or the tray containing it is not required, which is one benefit it gives phone manufacturers. Additionally, networks are optional to produce or distribute many SIM cards.

In addition, eSIMs will be fantastic for tablets and laptops, where seamless connectivity will become standard. Because eSIMs take up less space within a device, fitness trackers or even glasses will be able to have standalone 4G or 5G connectivity in a way they weren’t able to before, according to Vodafone.

eSIM’s real-life function

Your iPhone will show both networks on the screen simultaneously if you have both a physical and an eSIM provisioned and use two different networks.

Customers can receive calls and texts on both numbers if the handset is on standby and the SIM and eSIM are provisioned. You can select a “default” line for calls, SMS, iMessage, and FaceTime. Only voice and SMS are available on the other line.

If you choose, you can use the secondary exclusively for cellular data, which is advantageous if travelling and utilizing a local data eSIM.

Two eSIMs can be active at once on the iPhone 14 versions that only support eSIMs. So you can store up to eight eSIMs in total. Except there isn’t a card involved, it functions the same as when you have a genuine SIM and an eSIM.

How to utilize eSIM compatible iPhone

You need a QR code, if you have one. After availing the QR Code, select cellular under Settings. Then press 2 on the smart phone’s keypad, to add a cellular plan. If you are an iPhone user, scan the QR code your carrier gave using your device. You might be prompted to provide an activation code.

As an alternative, you could be required to use a carrier app to activate your eSIM. For that, you need to visit the App Store and download the app for your carrier. Then you have to purchase a cellular plan via the app. Next, you will have to add the ‘Data Plan’ to your iPhone’s settings.

The ‘Truphone App’ has the functionality to choose the desired plan and pay with the ‘Apple Pay’. You will then need to press ‘Add Data Plan’ in the settings app on your phone for the project to take effect.

Do you need to get an eSIM?

Those will depend on your requirements and usage scenarios. For example, most people using a physical SIM will notice little change if they switch to an eSIM. However, to lock their identities with their devices in case of theft, users concerned about the security and privacy of their SIM cards can switch to eSIM.

However, customers can only use luxury handsets to enjoy eSIM facilities, which are far more expensive than entry-level or mid-range smartphone models.

Say, for a growing economy like India, iPhone 14 series will have both eSIM capability and a SIM card slot, allowing the users to select the options they see fit. In the case of the US, you will be the only one who needs to switch over to an eSIM.

Considering that most smartphones across the lower segments rely on technology and that there are advantages of physical SIM cards for which there isn’t a workaround, expect the plastic SIM cards to remain relevant. As for whether eSIMs will completely replace physical SIM cards, that may be possible years from now.

eSIMs represent the future of SIM cards. By eliminating the need for a physical SIM card and SIM card slot, eSIMs enable manufacturers to create smaller devices or larger batteries, and networks can produce or distribute fewer SIM cards. For users, eSIMs provide the ability to save plans from multiple networks, allowing them to have a data roaming SIM for use abroad or use one number for work and another for personal conversations.

The adoption of eSIMs is still in its early stages, with only a few devices currently using them. However, with the recent switch to eSIM-only for Apple’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro in the United States, other smartphone makers will likely follow suit. Additionally, the potential for eSIMs extends beyond smartphones to tablets, laptops, and even fitness trackers or glasses, where standalone 4G or 5G connectivity will become standard.

While there may be some drawbacks to using eSIMs, such as limited choices and the need to contact the network when switching phones, the benefits outweigh them. eSIMs can reduce international roaming fees, allow quick switching between operators, and reduce the risk of device theft.

Overall, eSIMs offer a convenient, efficient, and secure solution for SIM cards. As both customers and operators begin to recognize their benefits, the mass adoption of eSIMs will inevitably follow.

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