What is eSIM?
If you’re already familiar with what a SIM card is, you wireless genius, you may have also heard the term “eSIM.” An eSIM, also known as an embedded SIM, is a completely virtual SIM card— basically one you can’t physically touch. Instead, it’s a programmable SIM card that does what a physical SIM card does: it securely connects you with your network and gives you access to your service so you can use your plan. eSIM cards can easily be installed onto your phone or device online or via app, and they’re essentially what makes your phone usable (beyond surfing free WiFi… or pretending your phone is on to avoid talking to people in public).
While today’s cell phones still rely on physical SIM cards, many believe eSIMs are the future and it’s only a matter of time before eSIMs are more widely-adopted. Some phones, like the Motorola Razr flip phone (#ThrowbackThursday), are even compatible with only eSIMs, while many other cell phones today are compatible with both a physical SIM card and an eSIM, like the iPhone XR and iPhone SE. But eSIMs aren’t limited to phones. Embedded SIMs can also be used in today’s cars, drones, wearable tech, location trackers, and even industrial equipment. Did you think we were gonna drop facts about multi-sensor shipping devices using embedded SIM technology? Cuz we are.
In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about this cutting-edge technology.
How does eSIM work
As mentioned above, eSIMs work much like physical SIM cards. However, instead of having carrier data pre-stored on the SIM card, your chosen phone carrier can send you their data over the internet (using a QR code) or through an app (like our app for iOS). Once you’ve got the data, your eSIM uses the data stored on it like it’s a physical SIM card.
And instead of swapping out a physical SIM card, if you want to try different carriers or add a new number, that information can be downloaded onto the eSIM in a different slot (or reprogrammed into your eSIM entirely). Think of it as a wardrobe change for your phone.
What is the benefit of eSIM
Since embedded SIM cards are such a new technology, you might not know all of the benefits of using these virtual SIM cards, or maybe you’re wondering if they’re worth testing out. Here are a few benefits of using an eSIM:
- One of the biggest benefits of eSIM is that your phone can have two SIM cards (and thus two phone numbers) on one device. This can be beneficial for someone like a business owner that wants both a personal line as well as a business line.
- eSIMs can be activated instantly. You can activate them online (or, if you’re switching to Mint, through our free app), instead of having to visit a brick-and-mortar store and wait in a long line to get a new one. All it takes is a few taps on your phone, or a quick scan of a QR code to get started.
- It’s easy to swap operators as the data on eSIMs can be reprogrammed (or, in some cases, can be downloaded onto another slot on the eSIM). This is great if you’re in an area that doesn’t get a good signal with your current carrier and you need to make a quick switch. This also makes it easy to free up space for more battery life or more features.
- eSIMs also make it easy to add different data plans and enable you to have separate data, voice and text plans.
- You can set up your phone with an international carrier if you’ll be out of the U.S. for a long time (or if you’re traveling and don’t want to search for a physical SIM card when you land). eSIM users can simply buy a physical SIM card when they get to their destination and use it alongside their usual eSIM card. In fact, eSIMs might one day eliminate roaming charges altogether. And we love eliminating charges.
- Some consider eSIMs to be more secure. You can’t have another SIM card forcibly inserted into your phone, and switching numbers from one phone to another can be done virtually. Your eSIM also cannot be stolen since it’s virtual and they’re also incredibly difficult to hack thanks to things like built-in billing-process security features.
- eSIMs eliminate the need for a SIM tray, making the possibility of even thinner phones an option in the future…more pocket space, anyone? Embedded SIMs could also be used to make slimmer laptops or tablets, or even lead to connected devices like fitness trackers and wearable technology (Google glasses) having more 4G or 5G connectivity. They can lead to smaller connectable devices as well, like smartwatches, since they’ll no longer need to fit a physical SIM card.
- eSIMs also have an environmental benefit, as physical SIM cards wouldn’t have to be created and mailed. That means less SIM cards being thrown away so we can keep the Earth
- Your mom will think you’re like, really tech-savvy and cool.
There are a couple things to consider, too, before you switch to an eSIM card.
- You can’t use an eSIM for older phones, since it’s such a new technology.
- They can’t be swapped between phones if your phone is damaged or irreparable.
So, if you have a physical SIM card, you might be wondering how they stack against eSIMs. Here’s a brief run-down on the benefits of physical SIM cards:
The benefits of physical SIM cards include:
- They’re used globally and by all major mobile data carriers for the majority of their plans.
- They can be swapped between phones if your phone dies or is irreparably damaged.
- You can get a new one if they stop working or you want to upgrade. You just have to ask your carrier.
- You can easily track one down if you’re traveling abroad.
And some things to consider:
- Memory is limited—they can only keep 250 contacts and some of your text messages.
- Although it’s rare, physical SIM cards can become worn out or be damaged since they’re physical chips. But this is an easy fix—you can just get a new one.
eSIM vs SIM
An eSIM is just a virtual version of a SIM card. SIM stands for subscriber identity module and, as stated earlier, eSIMs do everything a physical SIM card does: they securely connect you to your carrier and make it so you can access your service. Like a physical SIM card, they also store information like your contacts and phone number. And while a physical SIM card is a small plastic card that can be placed into your cell phone (and swapped to other phones), an eSIM is already in your device (hence why the “e” stands for “embedded”). And, as we mentioned earlier, there are different benefits to both, like eSIM cards allowing for two simultaneous phone numbers, while physical SIMs can be swapped into new phones.
But, in short, physical SIM cards are removable and can be held physically, whereas eSIMs cannot be removed and are entirely virtual.
Get started with eSIM
After hearing about eSIMs, you might be eager to use one (we know of one carrier that has ‘em) or even change from using a physical SIM card to an eSIM. If you have a compatible phone and a carrier that offers eSIM, the process is really simple. But first, you’ll need to check if your phone is compatible, then activate your new eSIM using a QR code or go through an app.
Is my phone eSIM compatible?
Not all phones are compatible with eSIM since it’s such a new technology. Right now, only certain Apple iPhones (including iPhone XS and newer, such as iPhone XR, any iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, and iPhone SE) and Google Pixel devices can use an eSIM with Mint Mobile.
If you have a compatible device, you’ll also need it to be unlocked if you want to use an eSIM for your Mint Mobile service (friendly side note: we only support phones, not watches, cars, or other non-phone devices). But one of the benefits of eSIM, and physical SIM cards, is that you can use your own phone and don’t have to switch phones to switch carriers. Once you have both a compatible and unlocked device, head here to find out how to switch to an eSIM.
Okay, you’re unlocked. You’re compatible. You’re ready to embrace cutting-edge eSIM technology. Good. Now check out our plans here… and we’ll catch you in the future.