What is eSIM?


eSIM stands for embedded SIM, meaning the functionalities of a typical SIM card are integrated directly into the smartphone. As such, there’s no need to swap physical cards whenever you want to change your cellular service provider. Instead, you simply activate a new eSIM or enable a different one you installed previously.

As you can imagine, eSIM technology is an excellent asset to travelers who need a convenient way to swap cards and bypass roaming charges. But how do these virtual cards work exactly? Read on to learn everything you need to know about eSIM cards.

How does eSIM work?

eSIM works like regular SIM, except there’s no need for a physical card, and you can have multiple profiles on one device. Additionally, you can have the same eSIM profile on various devices since the card is entirely virtual. The functionality is available on any device that has an embedded SIM card.

Initially, the card is programmed with a default SIM profile by the device manufacturer or carrier. Once you own the device, you can store multiple SIM profiles on the eSIM and swap between them as needed. Each one can be associated with different cellular providers for your convenience. For example, some can be work-related, while others can be from various countries to avoid roaming charges while traveling.

You can activate these cards by scanning a special QR code or manually entering the details in the settings menu on your smartphone. The exact steps will vary based on your phone model. Once activated, you can connect to a particular provider’s cellular network to carry out phone calls, send SMS, and use mobile data. Once again, details like price, country coverage, and mobile data amount will vary depending on your eSIM provider.

The emergence of eSIM technology

eSIM technology is a relatively new phenomenon, but it's quickly gaining widespread adoption due to its versatility and overall convenience. Let’s overview how it came to be and what makes it so appealing.

Firstly, it’s interesting to note that the need for embedded SIM cards emerged not from the consumer smartphone market but from the IoT market. Specifically, the M2M (machine-to-machine) industry needed an easy and scalable way to enable cellular connectivity across various devices, such as sensors, smartwatches, cars, and more.

It was paramount that these new SIM cards are smaller than nano SIMs and are soldered directly into the device to reduce complexity. Furthermore, they needed to be programmable remotely so companies could easily switch between cellular providers across numerous devices without much effort.

Fast forward a few years, and the technology has entered the smartphone industry. Apple and Google are some of the first adopters, making iPhone and Pixel models that include a regular SIM slot and an eSIM. In the coming years, we’re expected to do away with physical SIM cards entirely in favor of eSIM.

For example, Apple iPhones 14 in the US include only an eSIM without a regular SIM slot. This means newer iPhone users will likely have no option but to use Apple’s or another US eSIM provider’s service. Naturally, time will tell if this technology will find mass appeal among the general population.

What's the difference between eSIM vs physical SIM?

The main difference between eSIM and physical SIM cards is that the former is integrated directly into the device, while the latter is interchangeable. From here, we can anticipate the other minor differences between the two SIM alternatives. We will discuss the finer details in the below paragraphs. Alternatively, you can consult the table for a general overview of these differences.

eSIMPhysical SIM
Main differenceSoldered directly into the device, manually configurableInserted into a special slot, predefined settings
Pros
  • Occupies less physical space
  • Multiple SIM profiles
  • Easy switching and management
  • Same card can be installed on multiple devices
  • Universal compatibility across devices and carriers
  • Simple use and installation
Cons
  • Only available on newer devices
  • No wide adoption across devices, carriers, networks
  • Tedious switching process on some devices
  • Prone to damage, loss, theft
  • Requires physically swapping the cards
  • Limited to one device per card
  • May not support dual SIM
CompatibilityNewer smartphones and other smart devices (watches, cars, tablets, etc)Almost all contemporary smartphones and tablets

eSIM features

Since eSIMs are integrated directly into the device, there’s no need to buy a new one whenever you want to switch cellular providers. Moreover, the eSIM can support multiple virtual SIM cards for easy swapping while traveling. There’s also no risk of losing or damaging your card while swapping multiple cards.

Another notable improvement is having the same eSIM profile on multiple devices. This is an excellent perk if you need the ability to make and receive calls with the same phone number from your smartphone, smartwatch, and car.

Regarding downsides, the main one is that eSIM technology has yet to be widely adopted. That means you need the latest high-end devices to utilize these benefits. Also, not all cellular carriers and networks support eSIM. Finally, the process of switching eSIM cards can be tedious if your device doesn’t support multiple SIM profiles.

Physical SIM features

The main appeal of physical SIM cards is their wide adoption and simplicity. They’re compatible with a wider selection of old and new devices, networks, and carriers. Swapping between devices is also straightforward whenever you want to upgrade your smartphone.

However, their physical nature imposes a few potential drawbacks, such as the possibility of damaging or losing your card. Additionally, to avoid pricey roaming charges, you must buy a new one in each country you visit. This can be pretty inconvenient if you’re a frequent traveler.

Which phones support eSIM?

Generally, all newly released smartphones by the most popular manufacturers should include an eSIM. For example, iPhone models 14 and up released in the US include only an eSIM and forgo a SIM card slot. You can learn this by checking the phone’s specifications.

Meanwhile, older phones (released before 2018) most likely don’t include an eSIM. Once again, you can verify this by checking the manufacturer’s page since there are too many smartphone models to list. I’ve listed some smartphone models that support eSIM if you need a reference.

iPhoneXR, XS, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
iPadPro 11, Pro 12.9, Air, Mini
Google Pixel2 (with Google Fi), 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Fold
Samsung GalaxyS20, S20X, S21, S22, S23, Fold, Z Flip
HuaweiP40, P40 Pro, Mate 40 Pro
Xiaomi12T Pro, 13, 14 Pro
OppoFind X3 Pro, N2 Flip, Reno 5A, Reno 9A
SonyXperia 10 III Lite, 10 IV, Ace III
MotorolaRazr 2019, 5G, 40, Razr+, Edge +

How to check if your phone supports eSIM

You can manually check if your smartphone supports eSIM. The process depends on your phone’s OS and model.

  • iOS. Go to Settings > General > About and scroll down to Available SIM. If this option is available together with a 15-digit IMEI number, your iPhone most likely supports eSIM. iOS esim checking
  • Android. The necessary steps will likely differ depending on your phone’s manufacturer. In our case, we had to go to the Settings menu, search for the Connections menu, and then look for the SIM manager tab. If you can see an option for adding a new SIM or mobile plan, then it’s fair to assume that your phone has eSIM functionality. Android esim checking

How to activate eSIM?

There are a few ways to activate your eSIM card, but it will depend on your provider. These are the most common eSIM activation methods:

  • Scan a QR code. The most widely used method is scanning a QR code provided by your carrier. The code contains all the information needed to set up your eSIM profile. First, find the settings menu where eSIMs are activated. Then, choose the option to scan a QR code, direct your camera to the code, and follow the instructions.
  • Manual entry. You’ll have to input all the details manually if your carrier doesn’t provide a convenient QR code. Go to the menu where eSIMs are activated and choose the option to enter activation details manually. You will have to input details like the eSIM activation code, SM-DP+ address, and activation code confirmation there.
  • Use a carrier’s app. Some eSIM providers offer an Android or iOS app to accelerate activation. However, it won’t do everything automatically and instead will guide you through the activation process.
  • Use a carrier's website. Another option is visiting your carrier’s website, which will likely contain the necessary QR code or activation guides.
  • In-store activation. You may ask for assistance from a representative if you’re buying a new device at a carrier’s retail store. They’ll likely use one of the above-mentioned methods to activate your eSIM.

Conclusion

eSIM technology is gaining traction as a superior alternative to physical SIM cards. It allows device manufacturers to allocate less space to SIM slots and utilize it for other applications. Meanwhile, end users can easily swap between multiple SIM profiles as needed without worrying about losing or damaging their cards. Most importantly, this unlocks the ability to browse the web anywhere worldwide without paying expensive roaming fees.

However, there are some vital considerations before switching from regular SIM cards to eSIM. For example, eSIM technology still lacks widespread adoption and is only compatible with the latest smartphones and other devices. Additionally, it might not work everywhere due to network incompatibility.

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