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What is an eSIM and how does it work?

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An eSIM is the virtual SIM or digital version of the classic data SIM. It works thanks to a microchip that is installed in your mobile and that allows you to install several “eSIM profiles”, the equivalent of physical SIM cards, with their phone numbers and data plans.

Thanks to eSIM technology we can contract a mobile plan and use it immediately, without having to wait for a plastic card or go to a shop.

An eSIM-compatible mobile phone allows you to use several phone numbers at once (in the case of the iPhone, up to 20) and switch from one to another at once. It also allows you to buy a data plan from another country to avoid paying roaming, with which you can call eSIM on the road.

eSIM cards are the future of telephony and will replace the old plastic SIM cards. In this article, we tell you how they work and the main carriers offering eSIM: AT&T, T-Mobile eSIM, Vodafone, Orange, and more.

What is eSIM or Embedded SIM?

Can you imagine switching to another operator without having to go to a shop or wait for your physical SIM card to arrive? And using the same number on your mobile, watch, car, and even your home fridge? Well, eSIMs make that possible and easy.

eSIMs are virtual sim cards that are actually placed in the hardware (a specific chip) of your mobile or any other device, so you don’t have to place any physical card in any slot. That’s why they are called eSIMs, not by electronic SIM, but by the term “embedded SIM”, eSIM, which means integrated SIM card.

It is easier to understand if we know that the traditional plastic SIM is a memory chip with capacity for a few data. This data helps the operator to identify the phone line and communicate with the rest of the infrastructure.

Over the years, plastic SIMs have been reduced in size to fit into more compact mobiles, 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 knew their first mobile with a miniSIM card, launched in 1996. More recent handsets use the nanoSIM, which has virtually no plastic surface anymore.

The integrated chip on an eSIM-compatible phone is smaller than a nanoSIM and allows up to 20 “eSIM profiles” to be used, with their 20 different phone numbers and data plans.

The eSIMs can be found in various devices both wearable and for home appliances, cars or other gadgets that stay connected to the Internet at all times.

How do you set up an eSIM?

The configuration of the eSIM can be done by the user at home following a process that is almost as simple as making a selfie: just direct the phone’s camera to a two-dimensional barcode (or BIDI code) provided by the operator for the phone to capture the configuration that will be transferred to the eSIM.

Virtual SIM: Instructions for iOS and Android

You have an eSIM and need to configure it, you can follow these eSIM instructions for iOS and how set up eSIM in Samsung.

Then, depending on the phone and whether you use an Android or iOS phone, the virtual sim cards configuration process is completed by following a series of steps that include choosing whether the eSIM will be used for calls and data or only for data, and also choosing whether the eSIM 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 one the secondary one.

The same eSIM can be configured as many times as you want, and it can work with both national and foreign operators depending on the configuration provided to the eSIM. A feature that will be especially appreciated by those who like to travel abroad without giving up their mobile number and without risking surprises on their phone bill.

Frequently Asked Questions about eSIM

Which devices are compatible with eSIM?

Almost all Apple devices and most of Android’s high-end devices support eSIM. You can see the eSIM-compatible device list here.

Which mobile network companies offer eSIM?

Almost all operators in developed companies offer eSIM, but not all of them allow you to use any compatible device. For example, Yoigo does not support Apple Watch. Check the network supports your device before purchasing.

How much does an eSIM cost?

The cost of an eSIM is low, especially as there are no delivery charges. Check out the prices from Holafly.

How many virtual SIM can I use at a time?

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 Samsung S20 and Huawei allow only 1 eSIM.

Can I buy an eSIM from another country?

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 phone number in case you are called (dual SIM).

How eSIM works

esim-scan

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 mobile phone to the telephone network of a given company, in order to link the user to the operator that provides and manages the contracted mobile 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, can not 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 contract with a local operator instead of using the mobile in roaming.

Roaming allows you to use your mobile abroad without making any changes to your configuration and without changing your SIM card, connecting directly to the mobile networks of local operators that have agreements with your home operator. However, roaming can be expensive, especially when using mobile data in countries outside the European Union.

To address this, eSIM is also designed to eliminate the complexity and cost of roaming, making it easier for consumers to change operators and sign up for mobile services with local companies when traveling abroad. With a virtual SIM the whole process of changing operator, domestic or foreign, is completed by software actions (through apps and phone settings) without the user having to physically manipulate either the SIM card or mobile parts of the phone.

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 operator, lose your phone or buy another one. The eSIMs will be in the device you have and activated.

Changing rates and companies will be easier. As your eSIM will have the information of all the phone operators, it will only be necessary one click to change your data plan, for example, or your company.

You will be able to recover your data in case of loss. As the information you store in your eSIM or virtual sim is also stored in a cloud, in case of loss or theft of your mobile, you only need to move this data to another terminal (mobile with eSIM).

You will be able to travel and stay connected. One quality of eSIM is that you can use it as MultiSim, that is, keep a single plan with the same number and amount of data distributed in different devices (mobiles, tablets). Also, when you travel, you will not have to make physical change of your national SIM for a SIM of the destination country (in case you choose this mode 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 mix 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.

Every year billions of euros are thrown away 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 mobile phone 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 make a team with a space to put your SIM card.

For the network operator

Less paperwork. Operators will not have to worry about providing their customers with SIM cards due to mobile losses, renewals, among others, with eSIM the processes and tasks are simplified.

Other benefits of eSIM

Dual-SIM phones

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 mobile 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 usage. 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:

eSIM AT&T

AT&T is one of the best telecommunications carriers in the USA and North America. You can acquire an eSIM with plans from them for devices like iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy S20, Samsung Galaxy S20+, Moto Razr, and more.

With this company, you can have two voice and data plans on the same device. If your cell phone supported dual SIM.

T-Mobile eSIM

If you are a T-Mobile customer and want to use one of its eSIMs, you should know that currently, the iPhone XS and newer iPhone models, the Pixel 3, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 series, the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, and the Motorola Razr 5G 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. But, if you are an Android user with a T-Mobile prepaid eSIM you can´t do this because the service is not available yet. So, you must follow a step-by-step guide that T-Mobile will provide you with.

eSIM with Verizon

With Verizon If you have a smartphone with an embedded eSIM, you can sign up for Verizon service directly from the My Verizon app, without having to call customer service or visit a Verizon store, But as with the other carriers, you must verify if your cell phone is compatible with the Verizon eSIM.

Some of the cell phones that are compatible with the Verizon eSIM are from Apple, Samsung, and Google Pixel.

Vodafone eSIM

Vodafone has launched eSIMs for Apple and Android devices. You can use Vodafone’s eSIM with any of its mobile plans, but only on devices that are compatible with its eSIM. Also, for some customers, activating an eSIM will be free while for others it will be charged a monthly fee. You can contract up to four additional SIM cards to the same number. The activation process is free.

eSIM with Orange

Orange was among the first providers to offer eSIM. Orange has expanded its eSIM 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.

The SIM replacement by eSIM has a cost of 5€ (indirect taxes included). But, If the eSIM is requested in a line registration or portability, it is free of charge.

O2 eSIM

O2 has eSIMs compatible with Apple, Google Pixel, Huawei, Motorola, Samsung, and more 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 for International Travel