Over the past couple years, smartphones like iPhone XR/XS/11 and Google Pixel 3/4 started having a new “feature” named embedded SIM (eSIM). So far this year all flagship devices from Apple (iPhone SE), Samsung (Galaxy S20) and Huawei (P40) have included eSIM, while GSMA Intelligence is expecting up-to 3 billion smartphones to utilize eSIM by 2025. So what is eSIM and what benefits can it bring to consumers?
Standardized by the GSMA, eSIM is an embedded “chip” within smartphones; it fully digitizes the way consumers get wireless services and cellular data by bringing it online. To get or switch wireless services, we used to replace different forms of physical SIM cards (e.g. mini, micro). Such process typically involves visiting a shop or getting the physical SIM card by mail to activate its service. With eSIM, we can now activate a wireless service with few clicks using a QR code or an app.
Given it’s activated online, is eSIM as secure as SIM cards?
Like SIM cards, eSIM utilizes a dedicated secure chip using the same AES-based authentication algorithms. So from a security standpoint, eSIM is as secure as SIM cards.
What are the benefits of eSIM to consumers?
Mobile subscribers can benefit from many new attributes of eSIM including:
- Faster & digital activation in few clicks (typically less than 1 minute) instead of dealing with physical SIM cards that are cumbersome to handle
- Smaller, slimmer device as no SIM card slot hardware is needed (e.g. eSIM-only phones like Motorola Razr)
- Multiple plans can be activated on the same device (e.g. one for personal use and another for business and/or travel to save on data roaming)
- Service providers can be switched much easier (e.g. depending on their quality of service at home versus work location)
- Other eSIM-capable consumer devices (e.g. smartwatches, pads, laptops) can have different plans or connected to the same plan
How does eSIM exactly work?
When users subscribe to an eSIM-based wireless service (e.g. cellular data), they are requested either to download an app or scan a QR code and then follow the instructions shown by their device to activate the service. Activation is typically completed in 6 to 8 clicks (e.g. iPhone instructions).
Which devices currently support eSIM?
The main devices that support eSIM currently include (updated Dec. 2020):
- iOS Phones including: iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, 12 Mini; iPhone SE; iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max; iPhone XS, XS Max; iPhone XR
- Android Phones including: Google Pixel 2, 3 & 3XL, 4, 4a, 5; Samsung Galaxy S21, Note 20, 20+, Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 Ultra, Fold, Z Fold, Z Flip; Huawei P40 and P40 Pro; Oppo Find X3 Pro; Motorola Razr; Nuu Mobile X5; Lenovo Yoga 630, etc.
- Tablets including: iPad (starting 7th generation), iPad Pro (starting 1st generation) iPad Air (starting 3rd generation), iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy Book 2, Microsoft Surface (Go, Pro, Pro X), etc.
- Laptops including: HP (Elitebook, Probook, Zbook, Specture), Acer Swift 3 & 7, Dell (Latitude starting 7210), Lenovo (Yoga, Miix), ASUS (NovaGo, Vivobook), etc..
- Wearable devices including: Apple Watch starting with Series 3 and Samsung Gear starting with S3
Like Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth technologies, eSIM will eventually become a default feature in different smart devices, democratizing access to cellular networks. The only caveat is that consumers should use unlocked devices (i.e. devices not locked to a carrier contract) to be able to get the full benefits of eSIM.