The humble SIM card has survived waves of purging old, moving parts that have come with smartphone innovation. The time might have come for the old trusty, and it finally looks like the physical SIM is on its way out. Worried that you won’t able to call everyone – from your gossip buddy to your Uber driver? Don’t worry. The eSIM, a younger, much smarter technology, is here to save the day.
Wait, what are SIM cards anyway?
A SIM (which stands for “Subscriber Identity Module”) basically contains the information that authenticates your identity to a carrier. In other words, the SIM card is your login key to a network and its cell towers. SIM cards are generally integrated into Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC), PVC cards with metal contacts.
SIM cards hold a unique 20-character ID number called the ICCID (Integrated Circuit Card Identifier), usually found on the face of the card. It is needed to switch around between different operators. Plus, this card contains an ISMI number (International Mobile Subscriber Identity), which is basically your phone number, some security information, a list of services the user has access to and two security codes.
Effectively, all this information is necessary to be able to make calls and for correct data traffic between the mobile networks of different carriers.
The first smart UICCs were the size of a credit card. Over the years, they’ve been getting smaller and smaller, with the latest being the eSIM.
So what’s an eSIM?
The eSIM is exactly what it sounds like- an electronic, embedded SIM card that does all that your regular SIM does but sheds a lot of the limitations that come with it.
An eSIM basically shrinks down the functionality of a traditional card into a tiny chip that is literally embedded inside the handset, hence removing the need for a physical SIM card. eSIM is rewritable, so switching carriers doesn’t mean switching phones or cards. With a couple of taps, you can sign up to a new plan with a different carrier and start using their network without ever stepping foot inside their store or fiddling about with a physical SIM card.
The Good: As devices get smaller and thinner, each tiny little bit of space counts. There’s the housing, a reader, and a tray that are needed with physical SIM cards. Manufacturers can eke out a bit more space as well. Plus, removing slots and openings from any device’s shell make it less likely to be compromised by water or dust.
This chip is also much more reliable and less likely to cause mechanical failures. Also, since it is smaller than a normal SIM, it can be used in smaller devices, such as smartwatches.
This makes travel easier, with no need to mess around with cards and carriers. Carriers in The US, Canada, Spain, and India in addition to a few other European countries currently support eSIM and that list is only going to grow as more and more people get their hands on the new devices that have eSIMs.
The Bad: eSIM cards are great and all, but there are also a few disadvantages from a user’s perspective. If you switch phones a lot, this eSIM situation may make your life a bit more complicated. Every instance where you want to use a new device will involve activating the SIM card through the software of that device. You can’t just pull the SIM and pop it into another phone and be ready to go.
This also might be a problem if your phone battery dies. You won’t be able to pop the SIM into a friend’s phone and be ready to go.
eSIM cards still aren’t widely used. However, with the fact that the flagships and wearables from both Apple and Google now use the standard, we just might start seeing new options to activate and use eSIM cards from other manufacturers, as well as increased support from carriers.
It seemed unlikely that something as integral to phones as SIM cards would be left off, but this is ruthless innovation- out with the old, in with the new. Sure puts a smile on Darwin’s face.