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What is eSIM and how does it work? Everything about the SIM card of the future

NextPit eSIM
© Panuwatccn / Shutterstock.com

The days of the classic plastic SIM card are numbered, as more and more providers and hardware manufacturers are delivering their services via the eSIM. In fact, Apple has announced the new iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro series with exclusive eSIM support in the United States. But what is this "embedded Subscriber Identity Module," or eSIM for short? NextPit explains how it works and what are its advantages.

Read everything you need to know about the type of smartphones, tablets, and wearables that are eSIM-enabled and how to order and activate an eSIM as well as manage the eSIM profiles that accompany it.

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What does eSIM stand for and what is it good for?

The "embedded" SIM a.k.a. eSIM is smaller than a nano-SIM and is permanently installed in the device. Unlike a conventional SIM card, it cannot be removed, but can be overwritten via software. The eSIM is therefore excellent for devices that are particularly small, such as smartwatches.

You can also be more flexible and independent with an eSIM. No longer do you need to waste any more time by waiting for your new SIM card to arrive in the mail. You can switch between different plans in an instant: the moment you have the new activation code, you can activate it and take advantage of the new rate. This can sometimes be done within minutes.

Roaming charges are also no longer a nuisance, since you can easily switch to another provider when you are abroad. Of course, the eSIM is also more sustainable: nothing has to be made for you out of plastic and sent by mail. This also goes for the SIM card tool that always miraculously disappear into thin air, at least in the author's household, as it is now obsolete with the eSIM.

Which smartphones and devices use eSIM?

Even three years after the eSIM specification was launched to great success, we still encounter only a handful of eSIM-enabled smartphones. That is hardly surprising, though. The eSIM tends to showcase its advantages each time small form factors are in demand. Therefore, it is unsurprising that wearables like smartwatches were some of the first few devices in the consumer electronics market to use the eSIM.

However, in 2022, Apple decided to launch the new generation of iPhones without a SIM-card slots, which forced the use of eSIMs for cellular connectivity by new owners of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro series. All models offer dual eSIM support, which means you can use two separate cellular connections simultaneously. Regardless of the reasons why the manufacturer made such a choice, one thing is certain, Apple has definitely declared the death of regular SIM cards.

Smartphones with eSIM

SIM-enabled smartphones offer an eSIM in addition to the slot for the plastic SIM card. With some devices, you can use the smartphone as a de facto dual-SIM device, where both SIM "cards" remain active while running in parallel. This hybrid solution is considered a good compromise that will help customers make the transition gentle to the new SIM system.

Normally, only one active eSIM is possible on the smartphone. But Apple has already made headway here and allows you to activate two eSIMs simultaneously with the iPhone 13 Pro and newer devices.

Apple

  • Apple iPhone 14
  • Apple iPhone 14 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 14 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone SE (2022)
  • Apple iPhone 13
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 13 mini
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone 12
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone SE
  • Apple iPhone 11
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone XR
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Apple iPhone XS Max
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max supports only eSIM card in the US
The Apple iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro series support only eSIM in the US / © NextPit

Google

  • Google Pixel 6a
  • Google Pixel 6
  • Google Pixel 6 Pro
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
  • Google Pixel 5
  • Google Pixel 4a
  • Google Pixel 4a 5G
  • Google Pixel 4
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • Google Pixel 3a
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
  • Google Pixel 3
  • Google Pixel 3 XL

Samsung

Samsung has so far resisted from making budget-friendly models that are eSIM-capable. So far, this feature has only appeared in its flagship series.

  • Samsung Galaxy S22
  • Samsung Galaxy S22+
  • Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S21
  • Samsung Galaxy S21+
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Other manufacturers

  • Motorola Razr
  • Motorola Moto G8
  • Oppo Find X5 Pro
  • Oppo Find X5
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro
  • Huawei P40
  • Huawei P40 Pro
  • Microsoft Surface Duo
Pixel 6a von der Seite
The Pixel 6a offers a slot for plastic card SIMs in addition to the hidden eSIM module. / © NextPit

Tablets with eSIM

Apple has also decided to introduce the eSIM into its tablet family. The manufacturer once used the "Apple SIM" once; a proprietary variant that did not conform to the eSIM specification.

Apple

Wearables with eSIM

One of the forerunners in the mobile device market that featured an eSIM was the Samsung Gear S2 Classic 3G that plays nice with the GSMA standard. Since 2016, things have changed and the selection has grown rather impressively. Quite a few other wearables have an eSIM today.

However, this is often sold as a fixed connection to a provider and thus does not comply with the eSIM standard. There does not seem to be any aggressive marketing done by carriers in the US to promote the use of eSIM despite supporting it.

Apple

  • Apple Watch Ultra
  • Apple Watch Series 8
  • Apple Watch Series 7
  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 3
  • Apple Watch Series SE (2022)
  • Apple Watch Series SE

Samsung

  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
  • Samsung Gear S3
  • Samsung Gear S2 Classic

Other manufacturers

  • Huawei Watch 2 Pro
  • Huawei Watch 3
  • Huawei Watch 3 Pro
  • OPPO Watch
  • Nokia Smartwatch
  • TicWatch Pro
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 versus Watch 5 Pro.
The Wear OS-based Samsung Watch 5 supports eSIM as the preview's generation / © NextPit

Which mobile carriers support the eSIM?

In the meantime, there does seem indicators that eSIM will become more and more popular in the years to come, mainly thanks to the proliferation of IoT devices in the home in which eSIM makes a whole lot of sense. There aren't too many players in the US that offer eSIM, where they are mainly confined to the following:

Are you looking for a new mobile plan in general? We can help you! You can find out which rates are worthwhile in the following NextPit rate overviews. You can also find out what to look out for when signing up for a monthly plan in our best mobile plan guide.

Order, activate, set up eSIM

You were privy to the different eSIM providers above with hyperlinks to their respective sites, offering updated information on what you will be getting with the service. Normally, you can simply sign up for a plan via an app or by scanning a QR code and your number will then be activated after a few minutes. Alternatively, you can also call the telephone hotline of virtually all service providers.

Finally, there are differences in the costs of the eSIM: Certain customers might not be required to pay any more additional costs for the eSIM, while other service providers do hit you with a monthly charge. As for the minimum contract period, that also depends on the individual plan that you have selected, while one-time fees are not unheard of, either. 

In order to activate an eSIM, please also check the pages of your provider, since the procedure differs depending on the provider. Some might require you to do something as simple as scanning a QR code, picking a profile, and keying in the security PIN and you are good to go!

Sometimes you will also be asked for the eID of your device. You can find the eID under Settings in the device information of the eSIM device or directly on the packaging.

Manage, transfer, delete eSIM profiles

Once it has been set up, an eSIM profile is permanently stored in your device. If you want to use a different one when traveling, you can simply deactivate your home profile temporarily. Currently, manufacturers and mobile operators have not yet exploited all possibilities of the eSIM. In theory, you could download profiles, which are similar to apps from the Play Store, and change these profiles as and when required.

Unfortunately, you cannot transfer eSIM profiles to another device once they have been activated. If you change the smartwatch or smartphone, you have to order a new profile from the provider. This is usually performed free of charge. However, some providers do charge subscribers with a fee for this process.

The eSIM also cannot be physically removed from the device without destroying it. This carries both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that stolen smartphones can be tracked longer by you and the police using the eSIM. The disadvantage is that you have to delete the eSIM profile before selling your smartphone, and of course, you will need a new profile or a classic SIM card for the new smartphone.

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Carsten Drees

Carsten Drees
Senior Editor

I started blogging in 2008 and have written for Mobilegeeks, Stadt Bremerhaven, Basic Thinking and Dr. Windows. I've been at NextPit since 2021, where I also discovered my passion for podcasts. I have been particularly interested in Android phones for many years now, and would like to get involved with the highly exciting smart home market. LEt's see, did I miss anything else? Oh yes, I love Depeche Mode and suffer with Schalke 04.

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  • Laquisha Hughes 2
    Laquisha Hughes Oct 5, 2022 Link to comment

    I want this phone


    • 3
      David White Oct 19, 2022 Link to comment

      I've thought of this too lol