Apple knew how to bury a floppy drive more than 20 years ago, will it end up in the head of a plastic SIM card? The California company’s iPhone 14 no longer includes a SIM port on its US models, forcing new users 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 mobile phones?
The eSIM standard appeared in 2016, so it’s fairly new. The first conclusive results, produced by simulating a physical SIM card on a chip, date back to 2017, and we owe a lot of credit to Qualcomm for this discovery. Five years on, however, the adoption rate of the technology is far from staggering, especially in France. However, the standard has been able to take hold in the US since 2017, not least thanks to Google and its Pixel line, and even Apple, which introduced eSIM with the iPhone XS in 2018.
What are the benefits of eSIM?
Short for embedded SIM or SIM in French, so eSIM is an electronic SIM card that is integrated directly into a specific component of a 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 the space saving of the smartphone. Of course, nano-SIMs already take up much less space than previous large SIMs, but eSIMs are half the size of nano-SIMs.
Another advantage is debugging. In fact, you no longer have to wait for a small piece of plastic in the mail to start using your terminal. An eSIM can be activated quickly and simply by downloading and activating a card profile, usually just by scanning a QR code.
Last but not least, an eSIM allows you to utilize the same package on multiple connected objects such as a watch or tablet. Itou, some smartphones can store multiple eSIM packs (sometimes up to eight) on the same terminal. An asset when traveling a lot.
On the other hand, there is bound to be a downside to using an eSIM. This technology cannot store contacts like a physical SIM card. Therefore, these should be stored as directly as possible on the smartphone’s memory or memory card.
Who can provide eSIM?
All French operators can provide you with a virtual SIM card more or less easily. Historically, Orange was the first to step into the breach. The carrier and its subsidiary Sosh offer all plans to all 4G and 5G customers. Activation costs 10 euros, the same price as a physical SIM card. For Apple Watch owners, Orange allows you to activate a multi-SIM option to clone numbers on a connected watch. Paid option of €5 per month (plus a €10 activation fee).
Quotes for SFRs are usually the same. eSIM is available on the Sensation and B&You plans through the operator Bouygues. Free when subscribing to a Sensation plan (4G or 5G), 10 euros if the phone renews. If the eSIM replaces the physical card, regardless of the plan, a €20 uninstall is required. Finally, in Free, there is a direct transition to eSIM during the purchase of a plan. Then it will cost 10 euros.
For foreign countries, carriers generally offer relatively simple purchases and activations through apps. This is especially the case with T-Mobile, which allows eSIMs to be configured when subscribing to plans, regardless of geographic location. Perfect if you’re planning a trip to the US, for example. Other companies may also offer eSIMs abroad. Since activation is via a code or QR code, users can have everything ready before the trip, or wait until the day before. Note that some restrictions may apply. It could be a data-only eSIM, not a valid number for the country of access. Then a virtual SIM card is used in addition to the physical card.
Technology not available to everyone
If Google and Apple were the forerunners of the eSIM, other manufacturers such as Huawei, Samsung and Oppo soon joined them. But it’s clear that this technology can only be applied to high-end models, and low-end models will always be limited to dual-port physical SIM cards.
As we explained in the preamble, unlike the US, eSIM is far from widespread adoption in France. So its sustainability will be democratized through our borders, and manufacturers can take inspiration from Apple by no longer offering physical sockets. We can easily compare this phenomenon to the disappearance of the 3.5mm mini-jack, which was strongly criticized at the outset.
But the eSIM isn’t just for smartphones, tablets, and connected watches, as it’s also integrated into cars for GPS navigation, or just for permanent connectivity without a smartphone. eSIM may eventually make it possible to include ID documents (electronic ID, driver’s license). Therefore, the eSIM will only be used for integrated phone plans. However, the demise of the physical SIM is far from being announced, at least in France.