eSIM: Cracking Down Your Traditional SIM Card Replacement

Will Apple finally have the head of the plastic SIM cards to insert as it knew how to bury the floppy drive more than 20 years ago? With its iPhone 14, the Californian company no longer includes a SIM card port in its American models, forcing new owners to radically switch to eSIM. But by the way, what is an eSIM and, more importantly, what do we gain by not using the small chip that has been with us since the birth of the mobile phone?

Appeared in 2016, the eSIM standard is quite recent. The first conclusive results, the result of an emulation of a physical SIM card on a chip, date back to 2017 and it is to Qualcomm that we owe this discovery. In five years, however, the technology’s adoption rate has been far from staggering, especially in France. However, the standard has been able to carve out a small place for itself in the United States since 2017, in particular thanks to Google and its Pixel range, or to Apple, which introduced the eSIM in 2018 with theiPhone XS.

The iPhone 14 on the left (US model) does not have a SIM slot, unlike the French model on the right.

The iPhone 14 on the left (US model) does not have a SIM slot, unlike the French model on the right.

© apple

The eSIM for what benefits?

Abbreviation for Embedded SIM or SIM shipped in French, the eSIM is therefore an electronic SIM card integrated directly into a specific component of the smartphone. The SIM card thus becomes virtual, but retains the same properties as a physical SIM. One of the main advantages of this solution is saving space on the smartphone. Sure, nano-SIMs already take up a lot less space than the big SIMs of yesteryear, but the eSIM is half the size of a nano-SIM.

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Size differences between SIMs

Changes in SIM size over time.

© DR

Another advantage is the start-up. In fact, you no longer need to wait for your little plastic to be mailed to you to start using your terminal to the fullest. The eSIM can be activated quickly and easily by downloading and activating the card profile, usually just by scanning a QR code.

Last but not least, the eSIM allows you to take advantage of the same package on several connected objects, such as your watch or tablet. Itou, some smartphones can store several eSIM packages (sometimes up to eight) in the same terminal. An advantage when you travel a lot.

On the other hand, there is necessarily a downside to using the eSIM. This technology cannot store contacts like a physical SIM card. Therefore, these should be stored directly in the smartphone’s memory or on a memory card, where possible.

Who can offer an eSIM?

All French operators can offer you a virtual SIM more or less easily. Historically, Orange was the first to enter the gap. The operator and its subsidiary Sosh offer it to all their 4G and 5G customers in all packages. Activation costs €10, the same price as for a physical SIM. For owners of an Apple Watch, Orange allows them to activate a multi-SIM option to clone the number on the connected watch. A payment option at €5/month (plus €10 activation fee again).

The offer is generally identical at SFR. With the Bouygues operator, the eSIM is offered in the Sensation and B&You plans. It will be free when contracting a Sensation package (4G or 5G) or it will cost €10 if the phone is renewed. It will be necessary to download €20 if the eSIM replaces the physical card, whatever the package. Finally, in Free, the transition to the eSIM can be done directly in the plan purchase process. Then it will cost €10.

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For foreign countries, carriers generally offer relatively simple purchases and activation via an app. This is particularly the case with T-Mobile which allows, regardless of geographic location, to set up an eSIM while subscribing to a package. Perfect if you plan to travel to the United States, for example. Other companies may also offer an eSIM abroad. As the activation is done through a code or a QR Code, the user can prepare everything before their trip or wait until the day before. Please note that certain restrictions may apply. It may be a data-only eSIM and not a valid number in the visited country. The virtual SIM is then used in addition to the physical card.

A technology that is not available to everyone

If Google and Apple were among the forerunners of the eSIM, other manufacturers such as Huawei, Samsung and Oppo quickly joined them. But it is clear that the technology has only been able to prevail in the high-end models, with the lower ranges always being confined to a double physical SIM card port.

A physical SIM card.

A physical SIM card.

© simon2579 / Getty Images

What future?

As we explained in the preamble, eSIM is far from being widely adopted in France, unlike in the United States. Its sustainability will therefore go through democratization within our borders, with manufacturers that could be inspired by Apple by ceasing to offer physical slot. A phenomenon that we can easily compare to the disappearance of the 3.5mm mini-jack, heavily criticized at first.

But the eSIM is not only suitable for smartphones, tablets and connected watches, since it also integrates cars for GPS guidance or simply to have a permanent connection without a smartphone. The eSIM could eventually allow the inclusion of identity documents (electronic ID, driving license). As such, the eSIM would only be used to integrate a phone plan. However, the death of the physical SIM card is far from decreed, at least in France.

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