eSIMs vs SIM cards

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In simpler language, a SIM card is a Subscriber Identity Module that contains all the essential information regarding the user’s network and cell phone usage. These lightweight memory chips are portable and can be transferred from one phone to another taking along with them the contact details and related settings to the new phone as well.

While these SIM cards initially started as a size of a credit card, over the years, they evolved and became smaller to what we see and use today with further trims present to make them more compact. However, despite the different sizes of the SIM card available today, the performance is not influenced. While we do notice the SIM card sizes dwarfing over time, we all can agree that it won’t ever become as small as a grain of salt!

But we do see the future trends progressing towards the impersonators of a SIM card as digital SIM cards. So physically small enough might not be fathomable but invisible? Yes, we have achieved that. These sister versions of a SIM card imitate all the functionalities of a physical SIM card but offer more broad capabilities.

One such example of Digital SIM cards prevalent these days is an embedded SIM, more commonly known as an eSIM. A virtual doppelganger of a traditional SIM card, that comes already installed in the upcoming phones and latest smart gadgets. It cannot be removed or inserted but is embedded in the motherboard of the device and eliminates the need to fiddle with the tiny piece of plastic. This technology also releases you from the hassle of switching carriers or numbers and seems to be the answer to all the nuisances accompanying the physical SIM cards. 

Currently, these two SIM types can be seen as comrades in any smart device, where the physical SIM card still acts as the primary information holder and eSIM is used as the second SIM in dual SIM devices. While these do sound very different from each other, we can notice some obvious similarities between the two sister technologies.

How are SIMs and eSIMs alike? 

Firstly, both are SIMs that can be used on your phones and other devices. They offer the same functionalities where it connects you to a network provider and helps you utilize phone services. It also stores all the subscriber details.

The highlight of the evolution of SIM cards lies in the compatibility of both technologies working together rather than as rivals. In layman terms, both can be used together as Dual-SIMs in one device without hindering the efficacy of the other.

While the resemblance between the two SIMs seems to be remarkable, there are also some notable differences between the two with some predictable strengths and weaknesses. While both are SIMs, offering the same capabilities, one is a physical card while the other is virtually embedded. Let’s proceed with exploring some more differences between the two with their respective pros and cons. 

Pros of SIM cards

 A physical SIM card is removable from the phone. Consider a situation where your phone starts acting up, runs out of battery, or stops working entirely. Does that mean all the information is locked with the phone? Not at all, there is always an option of removing the SIM card and inserting it into another phone, thus relieving you from the stress of losing phone service at critical times. 

If your current SIM card becomes faulty due to some damage, is outdated, or has a manufacturing defect, you can always get a new one for your phone. Moreover, an added layer of security can be incorporated on the SIM cards where it is locked with a PIN.

Therefore, in event of your phone being stolen or misplaced, your subscriber information will remain safe. 

Cons of SIM cards:

The major disadvantage of a physical SIM card lies in the name. Its physicality can cause it to deteriorate over time because of wear and tear, rubbing, or getting wet in water. This essentially means all the information including contact numbers is lost and cannot be retrieved.

Furthermore, SIM cards require a secure connection with the cell phone towers to provide seamless phone services. However, some network providers may not be able to install towers in moderately inaccessible areas. Resultantly, the sporadic coverage will become a nuisance for those living in remote areas. 

There also exists a high risk of your crucial details such as bank account information, your passwords, and your email address falling into wrong hands if your phone gets stolen. It would be potentially easy for any person to access these details since all the password recovery messages are received by the SIM card. 

And a pet peeve regarding SIM cards, that could blow a fuse. Finding a paperclip or a similar tool to extract the SIM tray from the phone! 

eSIMs

Hence, where the network providers of today do heavily rely on using SIM cards to disseminate their services, the future trend seems to be inclined towards something more promising such as eSIMs.

Why eSIMs are better than SIM cards?

A significant feature of eSIMs lies in their virtuality. Since it is already incorporated in your phone technology, there exists no risk of physical damage and saves you from the hassle of ordering a new SIM, waiting for it to get delivered, and transferring the information to it.

Furthermore, hacking eSIMs can be an uphill battle where the hacker will be escorted through a series of security protocols that may become almost impossible to bypass.

Another great advantage eSIMs offer is the ability to store multiple profiles and subscriber data with unlimited storage capacity that could be used anytime anywhere. And by anywhere, it means, eSIMs can be used internationally as well. Now for the travel abroad, you would not be required to look for a local carrier’s SIM card for phone services. eSIMs automatically connect with the local carrier’s network the moment you land in your destination country thereby helping you avoid the huge international roaming bill you come home with.

Moreover, some significant amount of production costs can be saved that can eventually be passed on to the customers. 

Based on these merits, eSIMs do sound like the ultimate option for network connectivity. But before you make the final verdict, it’s important to take a glance at the de-merits that eSIMs bring with them.

Why eSIMs can be troublesome?

Since eSIM is a relatively new technology, older phone models still lack its capability, and purchasing a new phone might not be on our immediate to-do list. Therefore, the central focus remains on the physical SIM cards while eSIMs act as a sidekick when it comes to Dual phones. We can assume that it’s a long way before the physical SIM cards are completely phased out and eSIMs become the talk of the town.  

Moreover, eSIMs become a hassle when it comes to switching phones since the removing and re-inserting capability is absent when the SIM is embedded in the phone itself. Resultantly, transferring data to the new phone requires subscriber data to be downloaded from the cloud to retrieve your contacts, messages, and related media. 

The tug-of-war between these two similar yet distinctive technologies will be a long ongoing debate, but as the world progresses, and eSIMs are further developed, the demerits will be addressed and eliminated until it becomes an exact replacement of the physical SIM cards. 

Which phones support eSIMs:

These days, eSIMs are mainly ideal for those traveling abroad, where purchasing a SIM card for the local destination can be a hassle when you need to connect to your loved ones as soon as you land. Therefore, subscribing to a data plan is a great maneuver to avoid the hefty international roaming fees. For the digital onboarding on the eSIMs, you will be required to sign up for an eSIM plan and activate it using a QR code or an installation code provided by your carrier to download the eSIM and begin enjoying it on your phone. 

iPhone:

iPhones have the capability of both the SIMs and eSIMs that can be used to connect to two different carriers with two different numbers. Initially, eSIMs were introduced for the Apple watch series 3, which later raised an opinion that it would soon come to light in the upcoming launches of Apple. This much-anticipated feature finally appeared with the launch of the iPhone X with dual SIM capabilities. From then onwards, the feature has been widely adopted by many carriers since it seems to be the next big thing considering the benefits that it provides to the users.

Where initially, Apple offered eSIMs to only 10 countries, the latest data reveals that it has added more countries to the list. Here is the list of countries and respective wireless carriers where Apple supports eSIMs on its phones. 

For eSIMs to work with iPhones, the phone simply needs to be compatible, carrier supported, and unlocked. It can be used along with the physical nano-SIM card.

Androids:

Surprisingly, Apple was not the originator of eSIMs capability on the phones. Samsung embedded it into its Gear S2 smartwatch back in 2016 and Google first introduced the eSIM functionality in phones with its Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in 2017.  This was only restricted to be used within the US. However, the eSIM capability later expanded to other countries and carriers thus catalysing the opening of new revenue streams for them globally. 

We have an up-to-date list of iOS and Android phones and other devices that are currently supported across the world here.

eSIM unsupported phones

eSIM functionality is a fairly recent phenomenon. Where the global mobile manufacturers globally are trying their best to catch up with the trend, there are a few devices that still do not support eSIMs. It’s better to cross-check your device against the list below for eSIM compatibility:

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Hybrid Dual SIM 
  • Pixel 3a purchased from Southeast Asia
  • iPhones purchased from  China or Hong Kong are dual (physical) sims, with no eSIM.
  • Huawei P40 Pro+
  • LG, HTC, Xiaomi, Honor, RealMe, OnePlus, Vivo
  • Android Q Beta versions

eSIMs are not limited to phones

The eSIM technology is not limited to phones. As mentioned earlier, it was initially introduced in a smartwatch. Now it has been extended to smart devices that support cellular connectivity that links you to the carrier. A list of devices other than phones that support eSIMs is here.

The fusion of eSIM and 5G

The deployment of 5G has already commenced and carriers across the world are ready to take the major step towards the imminent connectivity revolution. The future of 5G greatly depends on eSIMs where an amalgamation of both the technologies will provide an unprecedented technical brilliance. To harness the true potential of this fusion, manufacturers are incorporating eSIMs in a variety of cellular-enabled devices such as wearables and other IoT’s. 

In the case of Apple devices, specifically, iPhone 12, using the nano-SIM card and the eSIM simultaneously affects 5G usage. When connected to both, 5G data will not work on either and will be downgraded to 4G LTE data. However, if you are using an eSIM only and your carrier supports 5G, then you can have access to 5G. 

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