Upgrading your phone? All you need to know about eSIMs

The brilliant thing about technology is it’s always changing. The exhausting thing about technology is…it’s always changing. Most of the time, upgrades and improvements take place behind the scenes, so that we don’t have to do anything to get a better, smoother or more seamless experience. But every now and then, a shift comes along that means we have to learn how to action things a little differently.

eSims are a change in which it helps to know what’s going on. It certainly doesn’t require an engineering degree to work out their impact compared to physical SIMs, but knowing how they work means we can be aware of our options when it comes to buying a new phone, changing network provider or getting a temporary phone number when travelling abroad.

Here’s a lowdown on e-Sims.

What’s the difference between a SIM and eSIM?

To use the technical language, SIMs (Subscriber Identity Modules) are the tiny plasticy cards our network providers give us to put in our phones and get started. It holds our phone number and account information so without it, you can’t make phone calls and texts, or use data. They’ve gotten smaller as the years have gone on; they’ve shrunk from a standard to mini to micro to nano sized.

Now they’re being replaced altogether by eSIMs (embedded Subscriber Identity Modules). These aren’t a removable, physical thing, but a programmable section connected to the phone’s motherboard. It means a phone number and account information can be digitally transferred onto an eSIM, and re-programmed when needed.

eSIMs are space-saving

A big benefit of eSIMs – for phone makers anyway – is that it saves vital space on your phone. A tray might only be tiny, but when you’re trying to make a speedy computer fit in the palm of your hand, every millimetre counts. e-SIMs are also lighter. Again, the weight might seem trivial to us, but every gram matters, and the weight saved can either be used to make it lighter, or for other improvements like a bigger battery.

eSIMs make changing networks and phones easier

The big benefit is that they’re rewritable, so you can change network without removing and replacing your SIM – which means no more being unable to put your SIM into a new phone because it’s the wrong size, or waiting patiently for the postal service to deliver said SIM, or going into a store to pick one up. Instead, eSIMs are usually installed by scanning a QR code or tapping in information from your network provider – so you can get started quickly and easily.

You can use other numbers on the same phone

For travelling abroad or having both a work and personal phone number, a dual-SIM phone was perfect. It meant you didn’t have to carry around two phones, but instead you could put two SIMs in the same phone and switch between numbers. eSIMs still allow that – in fact, they go a step further, and allow up to five virtual SIMs at the same time. It means you can keep your usual phone number as well as a few others, and switch between them easily.

So, for example, you could keep your main phone number active while abroad if you’re expecting phone calls. But when you need to use data, and if your home network would charge a phenomenal amount for this, you can switch it to a local SIM that has cheap data as part of the plan and use that temporarily. And because it can store up to five numbers, you don’t have to worry about keeping foreign SIMs safe once you get home – it can stay active in the background on your phone until you need it again. Just check with the local network provider whether you need to activate it every so often to keep the number in use.

Which phones have eSims enabled?

At the time of writing, the newest phones from the three leading phone makers – Apple, Samsung and Google – have moved to eSIMs, though most also keep a physical SIM tray as not all network providers support them. But in the US, the new iPhone 14 is eSIM only – a move that will get carriers scrabbling to upgrade their eSIM capabilities. Other phones include the Huawei P40 series (except for the P40 Pro+) and the P50; Oppo Find X3 Pro, 5A, X5 and X5 Pro; Motorola Razr 2019 and Razr 5G; Sony Xperia 10 III Lite, 10 IV, 1 IV and 5 IV and Xiaomi 12T Pro.


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