An eSIM can be added to smartphones or tablets via an over-the-air software update without having to physically replace a chip inside the device – meaning users no longer have to purchase a new phone when they want to change carriers.
What is a SIM?
The acronym SIM stands for subscriber identity module. It is a small chip, slightly larger than the microchip in a contactless smart card, that identifies a wireless device to its carrier network (phone company).
What is an eSIM?
An embedded SIM, or eSIM (also referred to as an embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card) is a small chip built into a mobile device that stores digital credentials. The eSIM can be activated and provisioned remotely through software.
This eliminates the need for users to swap out physical subscriber identity module chips (iSIMs), which currently are inserted into phones by carriers at point of purchase or later when customers request a new carrier plan. Instead, some manufacturers may choose to add an eSIM port beneath the SIM card tray so users can switch in and out their cards themselves.
What Does an eSIM Do?
The concept of an embedded SIM isn’t entirely new. eSIM allows consumers to sign on with carriers when they travel without having to worry about buying or swapping out local SIM cards.
The drawback: Unlike traditional SIMs, which are reusable and can be moved from device to device, an embedded SIM–like Apple’s Taptic Engine–is installed permanently in the device. In other words, you cannot take it out and use it as part of another device once it is programmed into your phone. So your eSIM is bound to the device that it’s installed in.
Benefits of Using eSIM?
The eSIM is poised to be key technology that will allow customers to switch carriers without changing phones. This means consumers will be able to more easily travel overseas and use a local carrier’s SIM card.
It also affords carriers the ability to tailor service plans on a user-by-user basis, similar to how companies like Netflix and Spotify offer different types of accounts based on customer needs. Folks wishing to upgrade their phone while staying with the same carrier — for example, signing up for a free iPhone XR offer from T-Mobile — can conveniently get one delivered at their doorstep through the app of online seller Best Buy; no need to haul yourself to brick-and-mortar stores or wait on hold over the phone with call center representatives.
Carriers could deliver additional features or simply change prices by region—expanding their revenue opportunities while ensuring better coverage and service quality for customers who travel abroad.
Which Phones Support eSIM?
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the first smartphone with an embedded SIM chip slot (called an “eSIM”), which permits users to switch carriers at any time without swapping out the device’s SIM card. Recent flagship phones all support eSIM.
The eSIM can be used to authenticate a user on a network, but it does not have a physical presence. The technology is available only for unlocked devices, however: It cannot currently be implemented in carrier-locked phones because the phone needs a chip that both carriers and handset makers agree to support.