Do you still remember the first time you received your Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card from your mobile provider and carefully removed it from the packaging to insert it into your card slot?
The SIM card has evolved over the decades, with SIM trays practically unheard of in the dumbphone era when Nokia ruled the roost. Regular SIM cards gave way to the micro variety before the nano was introduced, the latter smaller than your pinky fingernail.
It was only a matter of time before a digital SIM came onto the scene, otherwise known as the eSIM. It doesn’t have a physical form despite doing pretty much what your regular SIM card would – storing basic info such as your phone number, ensuring you are contactable, and granting you mobile data on the go.
Specially designed to overcome the limitations of the traditional SIM card, the embedded SIM – hence its name – is a tiny chip that’s integrated into your smartphone. It is not removable, but do not panic just yet.
All the relevant information is rewritable on the eSIM, allowing you to switch mobile providers without the hassle of looking for an ejector pin to remove your old card and replacing it with a new one.
While this sounds like a really convenient way of moving forward, it does not seem as though plastic SIMs will be completely replaced anytime soon. Smartphone manufacturers tend to make use of eSIMs as the secondary SIM in dual-SIM smartphones, which are of the Android variety.
Having an eSIM makes switching mobile networks a cinch. Traditionally when you make the jump to a different network, you have to swap out the old card for the new. The eSIM encourages impatience, as you can simply switch to a different mobile network via a phone call or via online channels.
The eSIM can store several virtual SIM cards simultaneously. In other words, a single eSIM lets you alternate between mobile networks on the fly whenever network coverage is not the best.
Frequent travellers will find the eSIM to be an indispensable feature. Pre-purchase an eSIM service at your destination of choice, and activate it upon arrival without having to hunt down a physical SIM card.
Stay in touch with loved ones at home using instant-messaging apps that rely on data connection alone. (Travel tip: take advantage of the local mobile network whenever you are abroad, since paying the local rate beats forking out money for a roaming plan.)
There is also the advantage of separating your personal and private lives with the eSIM, since it offers similar capabilities as a dual-SIM device. Such a configuration gives you the option of having the best of both worlds, where one eSIM number is used for personal communication while the other is reserved for business purposes.
So what’s the catch with the eSIM? For one, it makes it difficult to switch between devices. When your current smartphone experiences hardware issues, you can still remain contactable by swapping out your SIM card into another working handset. But you can’t do that with an eSIM.
Also, only a small number of smartphone manufacturers offer eSIM support, and even then, not all the models in their range do so. The iPhone XR or newer all support it, while Samsung offers eSIM support only in its flagship models from the Galaxy S20 generation or newer.
The likes of Oppo, Motorola, Google, and Huawei, too, offer eSIM support in a smattering of their devices.
If you value your privacy, you should be aware that there is no such thing as a burner phone with the eSIM, since the eSIM cannot be removed. In other words, there remains a very small possibility that you can be tracked whenever the handset is turned on.
With all this in mind, would you be willing to make the jump to the eSIM standard with your new, compatible smartphone? Do check with your mobile provider and see whether they offer such a service.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.