What is an eSIM? How is it better than standard SIM cards?

If you’re looking at a new iPhone 12 or hoping to get a Pixel 5, you may find that they have a feature you don’t know much about: eSIM.

An eSIM is a smaller, integrated version of the traditional SIM card and will soon arrive on a phone or other smart device near you. But how does it work and is it worth having? Let’s take a look.

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is a built-in SIM card. It is a replacement for the physical SIM card that currently connects phones to a mobile network, but the eSIM is much smaller.

Unlike a SIM card, the eSIM is attached to the motherboard of your phone (or other device). It is not necessary to insert it and cannot be removed. This does not mean that you cannot change numbers or change carriers, as the information on the eSIM is rewritable.

In fact, changing or configuring it might be even easier. You don’t have to wait for a new SIM to be delivered to your home; it could all happen instantly with a simple phone call.

ESIM cards use the same technology and work on the same GSM networks used by normal SIMs.

Related: What is a SIM Card?

Can i use an eSIM?

To use an eSIM, you must be with an operator that offers it and have a compatible phone. Most major operators, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, EE in the UK and over 120 others around the world, offer eSIM support.

ESIM cards are currently being used to bring dual SIM capacity to smartphones, including the iPhone 12 range, Pixel 5 and smaller devices like the Apple Watch.

Over time, all phones and tablets will likely switch to using eSIM. Its much smaller size means it could also become a common feature in Internet of Things devices, although there’s an even newer and much smaller technology called iSIM just around the corner.

How to set up an eSIM card

Most phones connect to a network by inserting the SIM card into the tray. But if it doesn’t use cards, how do you connect an eSIM phone?

It depends on the device you have and if you bought it with a cellular plan or if you added your plan separately. Purchase the plan separately and you will receive an eSIM activation card which includes a QR code that you need to scan on your phone.

  • iOS:Go to Settings> Cellular (or Mobile Data)> Add Cellular Plan, then scan the code when prompted.
  • Android:You can set up your eSIM in Settings> Network & Internet> Add . Follow the onscreen instructions and choose Use 2 Numbers when prompted. This, of course, may vary depending on the version of Android and the phone you have.

If you buy a Pixel on Google Fi, your eSIM details will automatically be associated with your account.

Your Apple Watch will come with eSIM preconfigured when you buy it with a plan, or you can add details via the Apple Watch app if you don’t. On a Samsung Galaxy Watch, you need to complete the setup via a mobile app on the phone.

Dual-SIM devices must support Dual SIM (Dual Standby) DSDS to offer full functionality. This is available in iOS 13 and later and in Android 10 and later. DSDS allows both SIMs to connect to a network at the same time. When you set it up, you will need to choose which line to use as the default line.

Related: What Are Dual SIM Phones?

What are the benefits of eSIM?

The main advantage of the eSIM is that it is really small. Nano SIMs may already look quite small, but at 108.24mm² (0.17 square inches), they are actually more than three times the size of an eSIM, which measures just 30mm² (0.05 square inches). ).

That’s before you even consider the additional dimensions of the SIM tray and card reader inside the device. These are no longer needed with the built-in technology.

This not only allows for additional space for other components, or perhaps a larger battery, but also allows manufacturers to change the internal layout of their devices. An eSIM does not need to be near the edge of the phone and it could make waterproofing devices even easier.

There are also advantages for us users. There are no complicated cards to work with and you don’t need to find a paper clip if you need to pull out the SIM tray.

As we have seen, eSIMs allow devices to easily offer dual SIM functionality. This is ideal if you want to keep personal and business numbers separate or if you are traveling abroad.

Dual-SIM phones make it much easier to jump to a local network and avoid the expensive roaming fees you’d expect to pay with your usual plan.

What are the drawbacks?

The main disadvantage of an eSIM is that it is less convenient when changing phones. You can’t just remove the SIM card from one device and insert it into another.

It also makes it harder to test for problems with your device. At the moment, when you are having connection or signal problems, a simple test is to glue the SIM into another phone to see if the problem is with the network or the device. You wouldn’t be able to do this with an eSIM.

And then there’s the fact that new technologies take some time to go mainstream. ESIM support and availability are still very limited.

What devices use eSIM?

The iPhone 12 series, plus older iPhone 11, XS, and XR devices all use an eSIM along with a nano-SIM. The smaller iPhone SE also supports eSIM.

On the Android side, Google’s Pixel phones from the Pixel 2 have the same configuration, including the Pixel 4a 5G. Samsung phones, including the Galaxy S20 and S20 FE, Fold and Z Flip ranges and the Note 20 series offer eSIM support. The Moto Razr does that too.

More and more Android phones are adopting new technology, so there’s a good chance your next update has it.

As with other devices, the cellular versions of the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch, and Huawei Watch are among those that use eSIM. There’s also eSIM support in Windows 10, so always-connected laptops may become a more common sight in the future.

Do more with your SIM card

ESIM is the future for smartphones and smart devices. Even if you don’t have it now, your next phone, or certainly the next one, is likely to use it.

In the meantime, why not make sure you get the most out of the SIM you have. First, learn how to strengthen your phone’s security by setting a SIM card lock . Then take a look at our guide to the best apps to manage your SIM card on Android.


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