Is an eSIM better than a physical SIM card? A lot of phones come with both options, so which should you use? If you’re eyeing a new iPhone 13 or hoping to pick up a Pixel 6, you might find they have a feature you don’t know much about the eSIM. (Similar post: Which iPhone Models Support Dual SIM? (2022))
An eSIM is a smaller, built-in version of the traditional SIM card, and it’s becoming more common on smartphones, often alongside the regular physical SIM. But how does an eSIM work, and is it worth having? Let’s take a look.
What is the difference between an eSIM and a SIM card? Both eSIM and SIM are SIMs. However, a SIM card is a chip that is physically installed or removed inside your phone with your carrier’s plan. An eSIM (embedded sim) is built-in to your phone and downloads your carrier’s plan indirectly.
I just upgraded my mobile phone and I see that it has a section in Settings for two SIMs, one of which is an eSIM. What’s the difference between an eSIM and a physical SIM? Which one should I choose?
A SIM card is that bog-standard, physical card you slot into your phone. It has shrunk over the years from the Mini-SIM to Micro-SIM, and finally to Nano-SIM, which is now the industry standard for these physical chips. They slot into your phone normally in a tray that pops out the side of the phone.
Your normal SIM card doesn’t really have a whole lot of benefits outside of its portability. The fact that it’s so small and can easily be removed makes switching it between devices relatively straightforward and doesn’t require getting your carrier involved to do so. (Similar post: List Of Phones And Networks That Support eSIM In Nigeria)
The downsides here are that they do take up space inside a smartphone, SIM card tray included. Given the amount of tech packed into the sleek chassis of modern smartphones and the ever-increasing need for bigger battery capacities and larger camera modules, every millimeter of extra space is incredibly valuable.
SIM cards are also often locked to a single network and require carrier intervention to make any changes that you may want to make. An eSIM, on the other hand, can be used with any supported phone and can be activated and de-activated on the phone itself, usually without any carrier intervention.
An eSIM is an embedded SIM card that’s fitted into the phone’s motherboard. It runs on the same networks as standard SIM cards, so there’s not much difference in how they work outside of the initial set-up and transferring of your number and plan. (Similar post: Samsung Rolls Out ESIM Support To The U.S. Galaxy Z Fold 3 And Flip 3)
The main benefit of an original SIM card here is the reduction in size. While the Nano-SIM may seem minuscule and incredibly tricky to slot into your smartphone, eSIMs are even smaller. Three times smaller, in fact. This opens up more room inside your phone for more features like a larger camera module or a bigger battery. It also removes one of the openings for water and dust to get in, which can help make phones more resistant to the elements.
eSIMS also opens the door for dual SIMs in one phone (though in the past many phones shipped with two SIM slots, but with the rise of eSIM that’s less common now), allowing you to have both your personal and work numbers tied to a single device, or to buy a foreign SIM card if you’re traveling abroad and want to save some money on those stinging data costs. Many smartphones now allow for an eSIM to be used just for your mobile data, further adding to their convenience factor when traveling to foreign countries, as you can retain your contact number so you can be contacted, while not getting stung with roaming data charges.
An eSIM is typically set up on your phone by scanning a QR code, often sent to you after purchasing the plan from the carrier itself. Some eSIM-compatible carriers also have apps that allow the user to buy a plan or set rates. Some devices such as Apple’s iPad allow users to buy eSIM-based plans on the tablet itself, adding further convenience for when you’re traveling.
What are the advantages of an eSIM?
It’s easier to switch networks. An eSIM makes it much easier to switch mobile networks. Instead of needing to order a new SIM, waiting for it to arrive, then inserting it into your phone, you can switch to a different network with a phone call or online. You also won’t need to go hunting for a SIM ‘ejector tool’ to remove the old SIM from your phone.
You can temporarily change to another network. Up to five virtual SIM cards can be stored on one eSIM at a time. This means you can quickly switch between different networks if you find yourself in an area without a signal on your usual network.
It also makes it easier to switch to a local network while traveling, without needing to physically insert a local SIM. Using a local mobile network while abroad can be much cheaper than paying roaming costs to your UK network. Not removing your UK SIM from your phone will also reduce the risk of losing it.
Allows you to have more than one SIM. eSIMs also offer the same advantages as dual-SIM phones with two slots for traditional plastic SIMs, the most obvious being that you can have two phone numbers on one device.
This can be handy if you want one number for personal use and another for business – but you don’t want to carry two phones around. You’ll be able to receive phone calls and texts on both numbers all the time and choose which SIM to use for making calls, sending text messages, or using data.
Uses less physical phone space. Another advantage of eSIMs is that they will eventually negate the need for a physical SIM card and its tray. Smartphone manufacturers could potentially use this space to increase a phone’s battery size or add more features to a handset. Fewer holes in a handset also mean more protection from moisture and dust, so fewer breakdowns.
There’s also the potential to make handsets smaller in some cases. But the real space advantage is for wearables such as smartwatches, as people don’t want to wear an enormous device on their wrist. The Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 4 already have eSIMs, as do Samsung Gear S2 and Gear S3 smartwatches.
What are the disadvantages of an eSIM?
There are a couple of potential downsides to eSIMs, though.
Not as easy to quickly switch devices. Right now, if your handset stops working you can easily remove the SIM and put it in another phone, keeping your number and contact information (if your contacts are stored on the SIM).
This will be much trickier with an eSIM – although storing information and contacts in the cloud is designed to make it easy to transfer data such as contacts from one phone to another.
Nowhere to hide. You also can’t remove an eSIM from a device, which may be viewed as a downside if you have concerns about your movements being tracked. But this may also be an advantage as it means phone thieves cannot easily hide the location of a stolen phone.
What is an eSIM and how do I use it?
Embedded SIM (eSIM) is a technology that allows a mobile device to join a carrier’s network without the need for a physical SIM card. The first eSIM-equipped device appeared in 2015, but the technology has only started to hit the mainstream in the past year or two.
Every iPhone since the iPhone XR has had support for two SIMs, one physical nano-SIM, and one eSIM. All Google Pixel devices since the Pixel 2 include dual-SIM support, as do most recent Samsung Galaxy models and a smattering of phones from other carriers.
The most obvious advantage of using an eSIM is that you don’t have to go to a carrier’s store to pick up a physical SIM or wait for one to arrive in the mail. You can sign up for a mobile plan and activate it immediately by scanning a QR code, using a carrier’s app, or even manually creating a carrier profile. (Your phone must be unlocked, of course. If you try to set up an eSIM for an alternative carrier on a carrier-locked device, you’ll get an error message.)
But having two SIMs available unlocks other useful scenarios. For example, you can use one SIM for a business line and the other for a personal line. In that configuration, you can make and receive calls and use SMS messaging on either number. For cellular data, you have to designate a line, although you can switch lines by flipping a switch in settings. You can even have multiple eSIM profiles set up and switch between them in settings.
Having dual SIMs is especially important when traveling internationally. You can use a local carrier’s plan for data coverage without losing calls and texts to your home number.
Most large carriers these days offer eSIM support, although many smaller carriers and MVNOs still require physical SIMs.