Since their inception over fifteen years ago, smartphones have continued to evolve with new hardware and software capabilities. One of the most constant elements has been the SIM card, which has gradually shrunk down from something the size of a credit card to a tiny nano SIM the size of your fingernail. Now, a new kind of SIM card called eSIM is beginning to arrive, bringing with it new possibilities as well as a smaller size. Here’s what you need to know.
First of all, unlike prior SIM cards, you don’t need to get an eSIM from your carrier, then insert it into your phone. Instead, eSIMs are built into phones by phone makers and aren’t accessible by end users, meaning that phones that use them can have simpler designs with no SIM tray. (There’s even a phone called the Meizu Zero that has no openings whatsoever, thanks to wireless charging, Bluetooth headphones and an eSIM on board.)
Of course, that raises a question - how do you actually choose what carrier you want, if not by inserting a small piece of plastic? With eSIM, this is instead done in software - you simply choose the mobile network and plan that you want, and it’s activated without the need to receive a physical object. That’s handy when you’re first setting up your phone, and even more useful switching mobile operators.
For example, you could sign up for a data plan once your plane touches down in a foreign country, and be online before you make it to the terminal. That’s convenient, particularly for places outside the European Union where roaming - particularly data roaming - can be incredibly expensive compared to local rates. Carriers could even offer special day or week-long packages designed specifically for short stay tourists.
Going with eSIM could also simplify mobile data plans - if your phone, tablet, smartwatch and laptop all have an eSIM chip inside, why not get all of these devices on the same shared plan? It would be way easier than setting up separate plans for each device, switching all of your devices at once would be much faster too.
If mobile operators are pushed into competing with other companies beyond just their local rivals, we could see a more aggressive market that pushes down prices for consumers. Without that lock-in, companies would need to improve their offerings to allow additional flexibility too.
Another benefit of eSIM is that we could see internet connectivity arrive on more devices. The small size of the eSIM could allow it to be used on Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, making it easier for your smart home appliances to stay up-to-date and communicate amongst themselves. Similarly, eSIM could help make internet-connected tablets and laptops a more common proposition - and with 5G waiting in the wings, might even begin to replace broadband connections.
Of course, all of this will take time. The first eSIM devices have already begun to arrive, but it will be a few years before it becomes the default option. Still, with so many advantages to talk about, the eSIM revolution might happen faster than you’d expect!