What is an eSIM? Why is it Better for Consumers?

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What is an eSIM? Why is it Better for Consumers?

Over the last 30 years, if you wanted to connect a phone or any device to a cellular network you needed a physical SIM card. And in today’s digital world, where things get delivered with a few taps in an app, that is not a feasible option.

Physical SIMs are now being replaced by non-removable embedded SIMs or eSIM for short. That’s right, eSIMs are just blank SIMs pre-built into your device that download plans instantly instead of waiting for the delivery of a physical SIM and then installing it into your phone. The opportunities eSIMs present, like instant connectivity, customizability, remote provisioning, and more, will bring connectivity into the future. We had predicted how eSIMS were going to be a game-changer for consumers long before anyone else and have been building and optimizing our Connectivity OS to tap into this new type of connectivity. Still, it took Apple’s introduction of eSIMs in their iPhones to jumpstart widespread adoption of it.

How do eSIMs work?

In the past three decades, physical SIM has gone from a mini form factor to Micro, to today’s nano SIMs, with eSIMs. We’ll take a look at how it’s possible for the connectivity provided through physical SIMs to move to the digital world of remote eSIM provisioning. But first, we’ll take a quick look at how SIM cards work in general to understand this properly.

Diagram showing dimensions of eSIM, Mini SIM, Micro SIM, and Nano SIM

How do SIM cards work in general?

Let’s consider an example—Julia just bought a device that only connects via physical SIM. This is how it would work:

Illustration showing how physical SIM cards work
  1. Julia would pick and buy a plan from a carrier
  2. The carrier will send her a SIM card with their network-specific data stored in it
  3. The SIMs from the carrier is installed into the phone
  4. The phone uses that data stored on the SIM to connect to the carrier

If Julia wants to switch, she would need to take out the SIM card from the first carrier and repeat steps 1-4 with the new carrier.

How do eSIMs work?

With physical SIMS, carrier data is stored on the physical SIM card itself, and devices need that data to access the network. eSIMs are essentially a SIM card with empty data slots that’s pre-installed and embedded in the device. Instead of using a physical SIM to send the data required to connect to the network, the carrier can send that data over the internet, which the eSIM can use. Here’s how it works with our consumer Julia, who just bought an eSIM enabled device:

Illustration showing how eSIMs work
  1. She picks a plan that she likes and places an order to buy it.
  2. The carrier sends her a QR code instead of sending a physical SIM.
  3. Julia scans the code and activates the plan, which triggers the next step.
  4. The provisioning system to send a SIM profile (the same data stored in the physical SIM) into an eSIM slot on her phone.

The Provisioning System is called the Subscription Manager Data Preparation, or SM-DP for short. You may see that term in eSIM activation instructions sent by carriers.

Once installed, the device uses the eSIM and the data stored in that slot as if it were a physical SIM. However, unlike physical SIMs, which would only allow you to access data to one carrier, eSIMs can store SIM data from multiple carriers. For example, if Julia decided she wanted to try another carrier or needed a different number for work, she can download new plans on the same eSIM but in different slots.

What is an eSIM? Why is it Better for Consumers?

SIMs vs eSIMs : Are eSIMs right for you?

Currently, not all phones out there have eSIMs. Since it is a newer technology, it is restricted to the newest, and often, not the most affordable phones. So, before you decide to buy the latest phone, you should know the pros and cons of eSIMs for consumers.

Pros of eSIMs

Some of the main advantages of an eSIMS for you would be:

  • eSIMs give you instant connectivity. No more waiting for a SIM delivery or installing it on the phone. You will be able to get a plan with a few taps.
  • One phone with many plans. eSIMs let you store as many profiles and plans as you need in one device so you can easily shift between networks. This means you can:
    • Use one number for business and one for personal calls on the same phone
    • Add a local data plan that starts working from the moment you land when you are outside of the country without switching SIMs.
    • Have a separate voice, text, and data plans.
  • Smaller devices. eSIMs are smaller and don’t need bulky compartments. Those extra millimeters can mean huge gains in thinness for your phone or watch. Or, in Apple’s case, dual SIMs as well.
  • eSIMs are more secure. Unwanted SIM Swaps will become impossible. Moving your number from one phone to another will be done completely digitally, over the cloud. As a carrier focused on customer security, this is a pretty big deal for us.

Cons of eSIMs

As much as we like eSIMs, and believe this is the way of the future, there are definitely some disadvantages that you may need to consider:

  • eSIM won’t work on older phones. Older phone models most probably do not have eSIMs, and you may have to pay a bit more for a newer model. Check out the list of all eSIM compatible devices here.
  • Data is more difficult to transfer. A physical SIM could store some contact details for you that would move with it as you switched it from one phone to another. With eSIMs, you will have to download and reupload that data. However, if you are using any service like iCloud or syncing your device with Google, the transfer should be hassle-free.
  • eSIM can only be used on one phone. You cannot just pull out a SIM and use it on different phones since it is embedded in the phone.

eSIM plans

If you have decided that the pros of eSIMs outweigh the cons, the next thing you need to look for are carriers with eSIM plans. Despite the simplicity of eSIM, many carriers are resisting the change because they’re afraid of making it so easy for people to switch plans or can’t build the technology for it.

For the few that are out there, we can’t recommend other carriers here 🙂 but can recommend comparison sites that do, and also recommend our own domestic eSIM plans for the US and international eSIM roaming plans.

eSIM plans for the US

Domestic eSIM data plans for the US are just a few taps away in the US Mobile app. You can buy eSIM data plans for as low as $5/month.

Dashboard of US eSIM Plans picker

Download the US Mobile app to add eSIM plans, and manage them wherever you are/

International eSIM roaming plans

No more searching for the cheapest roaming offer, finding the booth of the local carrier a the airport after a really long flight, misplacing your US SIM, or coming home to a big roaming bill. With US Phones, you can easily stay connected with a few taps.

Dashboard of international eSIM Plans picker

It doesn’t just end on that. If you’re traveling to any country out there, be it France, UK, China, Canada or even Mauritius, you can find more of our international roaming blogs on our website!

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6 comments
  1. eSIM is good to me. Multiple profiles is better. Business persons who travel across countries, benefit a lot.

  2. The feature about the multiple profiles is great. Usually I use a Dual Sim phone for this. Regarding this aspect, eSIM is perfect for me.

  3. Canadian visiting the US for a conference in December, an eSIM prepaid for data would be ideal. Will this be available?

    How would I order this? It looks like right now the site assumes I need to order the welcome package.

    Thanks.

  4. Biggest issue with using eSIM in phones is that every time you change handsets you have to deal with letting your carrier know. With a regular sim card, you just insert into the new phone, NO discussion or interaction with the carrier.

    Sure, this could be an automated portal, but I can see all the major carriers deciding to charge a fee every time you do an eSIM transaction.

    I really don’t see how using eSIM would make using a local carrier easier while traveling. Sounds like you’d have to deal with having your primary carrier reprogram the eSIM once you get back…

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