The eSIM (or embedded SIM) isn’t exactly new technology and has been around for years now. But it is quickly becoming mainstream thanks to fitness-oriented smartwatches and smartphones such as the Google Pixel series, Samsung Galaxy S and Z-series and the Apple iPhones, particularly the iPhone 14, which rely completely on eSIMs in the US.
But what exactly are eSIMs? How do they work? Will they completely replace SIM cards? What are their advantages and disadvantages, and most importantly, should you get one? Find out in today’s edition of Tech InDepth, where we dig deep into the eSIM.
What is an eSIM?
If the name doesn’t already give it away, an eSIM is an embedded SIM, essentially the same hardware of a regular SIM card chip, but now a permanently embedded part of the motherboard of a watch or smartphone.
Just like a traditional SIM card, an eSIM also consists of some components, which are now a part of your phone’s internal organs. They also function the same way, acting as a unique identifier for telecom operators and other consumers to reach your exact smartphone when they make a call or send a text.
However, being attached to the motherboard also allows re-programming, letting users switch operators without having to replace any physical SIM cards. eSIMs were first established a decade ago in 2012, but despite their futuristic use-cases, have not completely made physical SIMs obsolete yet. This is because along with its advantages, eSIMs also come with some shortcomings. Here’s a deeper look at both.
Advantages of eSIMs
Convenience: The first advantage is convenience. If you’re someone who doesn’t deal with switching SIM cards or phones regularly, switching to eSIMs will be a one-time process. It will also save you a trip to a telecom store/ service centre when you visit a different state or country where you may want to switch to another operator. The ability to store multiple SIM profiles in your eSIM also means you can switch between profiles easily, without the need of activating a SIM repeatedly or physically switching cards repeatedly.
Security: If you lose a phone with a physical SIM card, maybe attackers are not able to navigate your phone thanks to lock screens, biometric activation and remote locking support. However, they can still pop out your SIM card and use it in another unlocked phone, now being able to make calls, send texts or worse, use your phone number to breach your social media or bank accounts. This process is quicker and easier than you think for attackers. An eSIM prevents this, as there is no physical element to pull out and use in another device.
One less opening on your phone: Having an eSIM also means there is one less opening on the frame of your phone, in theory, which should reduce the likelihood of elements like dust and water entering the phone from yet another slot. It should also save some space on the inside of the phone to be used elsewhere, also don’t expect this to be significant since today’s common nano-SIMs were already very compact.
Disadvantages of eSIMs
Emergencies: If your phone stops working, runs out of battery or simply, falls and gets a cracked screen, your communication is brought to a complete standstill with eSIMs. Traditional SIMs, meanwhile, can be quickly pulled out of the affected phone and into another backup device or secondary phone.
Unusable in countries with no eSIM support: You cannot use an eSIM phone in a country where the telecom operators simply don’t support the technology yet. This isn’t an issue if your phone supports both eSIM and traditional SIMs, but is a problem on devices like the US-version iPhone 14, which will solely rely on eSIM alone.
Support only available in premium phones: In India, eSIM support is currently available on more expensive devices like the Apple iPhones, Google Pixel series and Samsung Galaxy S-series phones, Samsung Galaxy Z series, all of which can be expensive for the average user. By switching to an eSIM, users will also restrict themselves to choosing from a much smaller selection of devices that support the tech.
Telcos have more control: An eSIM may save you the initial trip to the telecom operator’s store to get your SIM card, but you can count on having to rely on your operator every time you want to switch your phone. While this may not be an issue for most people, many are concerned by the power this gives to operators, who may choose to charge extra for eSIM plans or for switching phones, in the future. Enthusiasts who switch phones frequently may also not want to contact operators repeatedly.
Should you get an eSIM?
That will depend on your use cases and needs. For most people who already have a physical SIM in use, switching to an eSIM will not make much of a difference. However, those worried about the privacy and security of their SIMs can switch to eSIM to lock their identification with their smartphones in case of theft.
On the other hand, while switching to eSIMs is free of charge in India as of now, the switch will limit customers to using premium smartphones, which do cost significantly more than entry-level or mid-range phones.
With regard to the iPhone 14 series, the Indian variant of the device will feature a SIM card slot as well as eSIM support, allowing you to choose between both technologies as you wish. You will only have to switch to an eSIM if you get an iPhone 14 series device from the US.
Coming to the question of whether eSIMs will replace physical SIM cards completely, that may be possible years from now, but expect the plastic SIM cards to stay relevant for now, given that most smartphones across the lower segments rely on the technology and the fact that there are advantages of physical SIM cards for which there isn’t a workaround for yet.