The embedded SIM cards are the future of cellular communication and will replace the old plastic SIM cards. In this article, we describe how they work and the main carriers offering eSIMs: AT&T USA, T-Mobile eSIM, Vodafone, Orange, and more.
What is eSIM or Embedded SIM?
An eSIM (the short version of embedded eSIM) is the virtual or digital version of the traditional data SIM card. It works thanks to a microchip that is installed on your cellphone and that allows you to install several “eSIM profiles”, the equivalent of physical SIM cards, with their respective phone numbers and data plans.
Thanks to eSIM technology, we can get a data plan and use it immediately without waiting for a plastic card or going to a store.
Can you imagine switching to another operator without having to go to a store or waiting for your SIM card chip to arrive? Additionally, being able to use the same number on your phone? Well, Digital SIMs make it possible and easy.
Over the years, plastic SIMs have been reduced in size to take up less space in more compact phones and have also improved in data capacity. Thus, the most primitive SIM card was the size of a credit card, while most people in their 30s and above know about the first cellphone with a mini SIM card, launched in 1996. More recent handsets use the nanoSIM, which has virtually no plastic surface anymore.
The embedded chip on an eSIM-compatible phone is smaller than a nanoSIM and allows up to 20 “eSIM profiles” to be stored, with their 20 different phone numbers and data plans.
The eSIMs can be found in various wearable devices for home appliances, cars, or other gadgets that stay connected to the Internet at all times.
How do you set up an eSIM?
Setting up a virtual SIM card can be done by the user at home following a process that is almost as simple as taking a selfie: just aim the phone’s camera to a 2-D barcode (or BIDI code) provided by the operator for the phone to capture the configuration that will be transferred to the virtual card.
Virtual SIM: Instructions for iOS and Android
If you have an eSIM and need to configure it, you can follow these eSIM instructions for iOS and how to set up eSIM in Samsung.
Afterward, depending on the phone and whether you use an Android or iOS phone, the virtual sim card configuration process is completed by following a series of steps that include choosing whether the eSIM card will be used for calls and data or only for data, and also choosing whether the digital SIM will work as a single line or together with another line, either in another eSIM profile or a conventional SIM card.
In case there is more than one line in the same phone, you have to select which one will be the main one and which will be the secondary one.
The same virtual SIM card can be configured as many times as you want, and it can work with both domestic and foreign operators depending on the configuration provided to the eSIM. This is a feature that will be especially appreciated by those who like to travel abroad without giving up their phone number and without risking surprises on their phone bill.
Difference between eSIM card and SIM card
The main difference between the eSIM and SIM card is that the eSIM is completely virtual, so to use it, you don’t need a physical chip like the traditional SIM card, but you need a compatible cellphone. Usually, only the last-gen devices support it.
This means that to get an eSIM, you don’t need to wait days at home for the SIM to arrive, or another couple of days for it to be activated. You just need to go to an online store, buy it and download it. All in a couple of minutes!
Frequently Asked Questions about eSIM
Almost all Apple devices and most of Android’s high-end devices support eSIMs. You can see the eSIM-compatible device list here.
Almost all operators in developed countries offer virtual SIMs, but not all of them allow you to use any compatible device. For example, Yoigo does not support the Apple Watch. Check the network that supports your device before purchasing.
The cost of an eSIM is low, especially given that there are no delivery fees. Check out the prices from Holafly.
It depends on the device. An iPhone allows you to have up to 20 profiles activated at the same time (although you can only use one for calls and another for data). The last Samsung Galaxy devices allow more than 5 eSIMs.
Yes, in Holafly you can buy an eSIM from any country you travel to so you have data without paying roaming charges. You can also keep your domestic phone number in case someone calls you (dual SIM).
Yes, if you are a T-Mobile customer, you can get a local eSIM from this provider with a monthly subscription plan at one of their physical stores.
Dual SIM is an option that some cellphones have where you can use two SIMs simultaneously. Two SIM cards; One SIM card and One eSIM or two eSIMs, such as the new iPhone 14 that only supports eSIMs in the US.
How Digital SIM cards works
The eSIM has the same function as conventional SIM cards: it contains the personal information (such as the telephone number) and the configuration that connects the cellphone to the cellular network of a given company to link the user to the operator providing and managing the selected cellular services.
However, each physical SIM card is programmed to work only with the operator who supplies it. And although the operator can update and change the information contained in the SIM, its base programming, which comes from the factory, cannot be modified. For this reason, when you change the operator, it is necessary to remove the SIM card that is inside the phone and replace it with another SIM card that will be delivered by the new operator.
This disadvantage makes it difficult to change the operator even if it is temporary; for example, when you travel abroad and you want to get a local operator SIM instead of using your domestic provider’s roaming services.
Roaming allows you to use your cellphone abroad without making any changes to your configuration and without changing your SIM card, connecting directly to the cellular networks of local operators that have contract agreements with your domestic operator. However, roaming can be expensive, especially when using cellular data in countries outside the European Union.
To address this, eSIM is also designed to eliminate the complexity, hassle and cost of roaming, making it easier for consumers to change operators and sign up for cellular services with local companies when traveling abroad. With a virtual SIM, the whole process of switching operators, domestic or foreign, is completed through software procedures (through apps and phone settings) without the user having to manipulate either the SIM card parts of the phone physically.
Advantages of virtual SIM cards
For the client
There goes the plastic. You no longer have to buy or ask for a physical SIM card when you change operators, lose your phone or buy another one. The virtual SIMs will be in the device you have and activated.
Changing rates and providers will be easier. As your eSIM will have the information on all the phone operators, it will only be necessary one click to change your data plan, for example, or your carrier.
You will be able to recover your data in case of loss. As the information you store in your digital SIM card is also stored in a cloud, in case your phones’ gets stolen or lost, you only need to move this data to another device.
You will be able to travel and remain connected. One eSIM feature is that you can use it as MultiSIM, that is, keep a single plan with the same number and amount of data laid out across different devices (cellphones, tablets). Also, when you travel, you will not have to make a physical switch of your domestic SIM for a SIM of the destination country (in case you choose this option of Internet connection).
eSIM and sustainability
Every year, billions of SIM cards are manufactured and disposed of around the world. Despite their age (the SIM card emerged in the early 1990s), there is still no effective method for recycling SIM cards, which are classified as mixed waste combined with other waste. This is one of the most complicated types of waste to recycle because they are a mix of different materials, each of which has its own optimal recycling process.
In addition, SIM cards not only combine metal and plastic, but also contain rare and valuable mineral elements, such as gold. This makes recycling even more complicated, as it requires complex chemical and mechanical processes that are costly and polluting in themselves.
Annually, billions of euros are dissipated in electronic waste that is not recycled, including a large proportion of SIM cards that are no longer useful. In some cases, users choose not to send their SIM cards for recycling, for security reasons: they prefer to keep them, destroy them or burn them to protect the personal information they contain, such as phone numbers, contacts or messages.
An additional benefit of eSIM is that it helps reduce the use of plastics and the CO2 emissions and consumption of raw materials associated with their manufacture. eSIM also reduces the abundance and accumulation of plastics in landfills and in the environment, including rivers and seas. As the virtual card is part of the cellphone, it will be recycled during the same process as the rest of its electronic elements and components.
For the manufacturer
Bye-bye, slots. Now the artists who make your phone look so stylish will have more freedom as they won’t have to design a device without a slot to insert your SIM card.
For the network operator
Less paperwork. Operators will not have to worry about providing their customers with SIM cards due to cellphone loss and renewals, among others. With eSIM, the processes and tasks are simplified.
Other benefits of eSIM
Many phones come equipped with capacity for two or more SIM cards, meaning you can activate your eSIM while maintaining your current SIM card.
Bye bye, data roaming: no more hefty phone bills
With an eSIM, you can say goodbye to data roaming charges. Using ‘Data roaming’ from your current cellular provider is the traditional way of connecting to the internet abroad. But this method is very expensive. It could cost you up to $15 per megabyte, meaning you could receive a phone bill worth $100s for common internet consumption. With an eSIM, you’ll never receive surprise bills.
The eSIMs with the main mobile network carriers in the World
Many network providers now offer eSIM. Let’s take a look at what they offer:
AT&T is one of the best telecommunications carriers in the USA and North America. You can get an eSIM with a plan from them for iPhone devices and Android devices like Samsung Galaxy S20, Samsung Galaxy S20+, S21, S22, S22+, S22 Ultra, S23, S23+, S23 ultra, Moto Razr, and more.
With this company, you can have two voice and data plans on the same device if your cellphone supports dual SIM.
Suppose you are a T-Mobile customer and want to use one of its eSIMs. In that case, you should know that currently, the iPhone XS, more recent iPhone models, and the most recent Android devices like Samsung Galaxy phones, Google Pixel, Huawei, and the Motorola Razr are compatible with T-Mobile’s eSIM.
On the other hand, if you are a T-Mobile Prepaid customer with an iPhone, you should download and install the T-Mobile Prepaid eSIM app to activate an eSIM.
eSIM with Verizon
With Verizon, If you have a smartphone with an embedded SIM, you can sign up for Verizon service directly from the My Verizon app, without having to call customer service or visit a Verizon store. Still, as with the other carriers, you must verify if your cellphone is compatible with the Verizon eSIM.
Some cellphones compatible with the Verizon eSIM are from Apple, Samsung, and Google Pixel.
Vodafone has launched virtual SIMs for Apple and Android devices. You can use Vodafone’s eSIM with any of its cellphone plans, but only on devices that are compatible with its digital SIM cards. Also, for some customers, activating an eSIM will be free while for others it will be charged a monthly fee. You can get up to four additional SIM cards for the same number. The activation process is free.
eSIM with Orange
Orange was among the first providers to offer eSIM. Orange has expanded its virtual SIMs service to multiple devices, including Apple, Huawei, Google Pixel, Motorola, and Samsung. With this carrier, you can choose to exchange your current SIM card for an eSIM or have a new eSIM together with the traditional SIM Card.
O2 has eSIMs compatible with Apple, Google Pixel, Huawei, Motorola, and Samsung devices.
They will ask you to send them your details (ID/Passport) beforehand. Later, you will receive an “activation PDF” with the necessary data (PIN, PUK, ICC, and QR code) for the operation of your eSIM.
eSIM in Smartwatches
Smartwatches compatible with eSIM are perhaps the ones that have had the greatest reception in the market. Several operators have brought eSIM to their customers through these devices.
However, the eSIM in smartwatches still faces two major challenges. First, because they are so small and have tiny batteries, GSM connectivity with 4G increases power consumption and lowers their independence. Therefore, it is not surprising that a watch with a Bluetooth connection can be worn for weeks without recharging, whereas a smartwatch with eSIM almost has to be connected to a charger every day.
The second challenge is in the Apple Watch. For these cellular devices, unlike other smartwatches, the management of the eSIM needs to be done through development on the operator’s web platform. The place from where you can activate the service.
Conclusions of the virtual SIM
Opinions are divided on this new technology. On the one hand, it eliminates the need for a physical SIM card, which can be convenient and save space on cellular devices. In addition, it allows you to change operators without changing SIM cards; However, the technology is not yet widely adopted by all operators.
Moreover, according to a study conducted in 2020, it is estimated that 70% of equipment will operate with this type of technology. This includes cars with eSIM cards and gadgets connected to the Internet.