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Written by
Katy Ratican
28 Nov 2022
16 minutes

What is an eSIM? Explaining eSIMs: A smarter and faster way to do business

A detailed guide to everything you need to about eSIMs, how they work, their advantages and their future
What is an eSIM for business?

The traditional SIM is making way for eSIMs. Most mobile phone manufacturers are shifting to the new technology, with Apple’s latest iPhone release offering it, rather than the standard SIM slot. As a business phone user, now is a good time to understand what an eSIM is and to decide whether or not one would fit your business goals.

Technology rarely stops evolving. Most people are familiar with this concept because they see the progress in gadgets and software. But technological evolution also makes its presence in less obvious but equally impactful ways. eSIM is a prime example of this.

In this thorough guide, we will explain what is an eSIM, how it works, its benefits for business owners and the future of the technology.

Contents:

What is an eSIM?
How do eSIMs work?

What's the difference between eSIMs and SIM cards?

Advantages of eSIMs

Disadvantages of eSIMs

The benefits of using an eSIM for business

eSIM vs VoIP

How safe is an eSIM?

Which mobile networks support eSIMs?

Do all networks support eSIMs?

Do all smartphones have an eSIM?

Best-selling smartphones that have eSIM enabled

I’m a business user: Should I get a phone with an eSIM?

The future of eSIM and wireless service providers

iSIM: The next leap in technology

Jargon-busting eSIM terminology

What is an eSIM?

When you think of SIM, you think of a piece of hardware that you put into a slot in your phone. This is how you activate your phone number. This physical SIM is now being replaced by an eSIM – or Embedded Subscriber Identity Module.

An eSIM is a programmable SIM that’s physically connected to a phone’s motherboard. It cannot be removed unless you break open the phone. An eSIM does everything that a conventional SIM does but simply comes embedded with the smartphone.

Doesn’t that limit you to a single phone? If you have to change your carriers, you usually remove a SIM and get one from the new provider. With an eSIM, wouldn’t switching local carriers be impossible?

Frequent travellers among you would be thinking about another potential problem. Don’t you have to change SIMs when travelling abroad to avoid paying those exorbitant roaming charges? How you do remove and put another provider’s SIM if you use an eSIM?

You don’t have to worry about physically changing your eSIM. You can change providers by entering new information from a carrier. You can even scan a QR code with your phone’s camera and change carriers. Smartphones with eSIMs enable users to change carriers and lines and manage their accounts through settings.

As you get to know what is an eSIM, it’s also important to see it as part of a larger change in the technology landscape.

Less hardware, more functionality

Not too long ago, we used to have DVD players and cameras with memory cards. And pen drives were the medium to exchange information between devices. All those have gone digital now.

Technology companies are increasingly delivering products and services that don’t need additional hardware. Fewer moving parts means more seamless functioning. For users, it translates to fewer things to manage.

When your laptop, tablet or television can play multimedia content directly from the cloud and when you can transfer documents using Bluetooth and other technologies, you have an interrupted user experience where you don’t have to worry about connecting devices.

That’s what eSIMs also do.

How do eSIMs work?

Now that you know what an eSIM is, let’s figure out how it works. But first, we need to remind ourselves how a conventional SIM functions. Every SIM card has network-specific information in it. When you insert it into a phone, the phone uses it to connect you to your carrier.

If you want to switch carriers, all you have to do is take out the current SIM and insert one from your new carrier. Only then can your phone get the necessary information to activate your new number and connect you to the network under your new provider.

An eSIM works differently. After buying an eSIM-enabled device, you choose a carrier and plan. The carrier would then send you a QR code that you can scan to activate your plan. The carrier then transfers the SIM profile into your device’s eSIM.

There’s no need to visit a store and get a physical SIM. If you want to get another number or change carriers, you can download another plan and get a new profile on the same eSIM.

eSIM vs. SIM cards: What’s the difference?

Knowing how it’s different from a SIM card will help you better understand what an eSIM is. A physical SIM card works by allowing a carrier to match a device with an account. This allows it to communicate over the company’s network. To do it, the provider issues a physical SIM that you can put into a device. Doing so registers it with the carrier’s network.

Now you can start using your number through that particular device.

The information on the physical SIM cannot be changed or overwritten. But you can use the SIM on any other device and have the same number. This makes the traditional SIM device agnostic.

eSIMs take the circuitry found in SIM cards and install it into a device. Once you register your device by scanning a QR code, you’ll be allowed to join the carrier’s network. Some carriers also allow you to activate your eSIM via their apps. You don’t need to insert a physical SIM card to start using your number.

An embedded SIM cannot be removed from the device, unlike a conventional mobile SIM card. You can only use an eSIM on its specific device. This makes eSIMs device-centric. But you can rewrite the information on an eSIM. You can switch mobile carriers without having to get a new SIM.

It’s important to note that the devices that support eSIM currently also support traditional SIM cards. This is good news if you’re a business owner looking for a second number for work. You can use your current number through the physical SIM and also get a business number through an eSIM.

Advantages of eSIMs

Having understood what eSIM is, let’s now look at its advantages.

Advantages of eSIMs

  • Easy to get started

    The biggest advantage of eSIMs is their ease of use. You don’t have to approach a carrier’s store to get a physical SIM or wait for it to arrive in your mail. If you have an eSIM-compatible device, you can sign up for a plan from your carrier and activate it quickly using a QR code. You can even use the carrier’s app or manually create a profile to get started.

  • Effortless to change operators

    Changing carriers is cumbersome with traditional SIM cards since you have to contact a store to get your new SIM or wait for it in the mail. But with eSIMs, it’s quick and effortless since they’re rewritable. You can switch operators online, through their apps, or even with a phone call. This avoids needless interruptions to your business communication.

  • Option for multiple cards

    Some eSIM devices allow you to save up to five virtual cards. If you’re looking for a dedicated number for work, this is an easy way to have one. Keep in mind that if you want to use two numbers on the same device, the other option is to go for dual SIM phones.

  • More space for manufacturers

    Smartphone manufacturers need all the space they can get because of two reasons: devices overall are getting smaller and consumers need more functionalities. An eSIM is half the size of even the smallest traditional SIM card. That extra space could be used for more storage or battery power.

  • Free from damage

    As every smartphone user knows, inserting or taking out a SIM card is an arduous process, especially in low light or when in a moving vehicle. You can lose it or damage it and then you have to go to your carrier’s store to request a new SIM and pay for it. This won’t happen with eSIMs because they’re permanently embedded within the device. There’s nothing to handle or store and nothing to worry about.

  • More secure

    One could argue that thieves have less incentive to steal an eSIM-embedded device simply because they won’t be able to remove the SIM card and insert another one. As long as they use the same number, it will be easier to track them. Moreover, you can immediately request your carrier to shut down the phone, which will make it useless for its new owner.

Disadvantages of eSIMs

Although it offers several benefits, eSIMs also have certain disadvantages that potential users should know about.

Disadvantages of eSIMs

  • Fewer options

    Currently, eSIMs are limited to certain phones. If you were to choose an eSIM, you would have a limited number of options to choose from. This might also affect the price and the other features you would expect from a smartphone.

  • Difficult to change

    When you’re choosing a traditional SIM card, you’re choosing a carrier. When selecting an eSIM, you’re selecting a phone manufacturer. If you want to change your phone due to its limited features or any other factor, it would be difficult to transfer the data.

  • Not supported by all networks

    While eSIMs are becoming more popular, not all networks currently support them. This is especially true if you want to switch to a low-cost carrier while travelling. Since newer smartphones such as the iPhone 14 don’t have a slot for a SIM card, this could be a challenge.

  • Easy to monitor

    If you believe you’re being tracked, an easy solution is to take out your SIM card. This is impossible with eSIMs and therefore the technology could raise privacy issues.

The benefits of using an eSIM for business

While eSIMs offer numerous advantages to all users, there are some specific benefits that should encourage businesses to consider them.

You can get a second number

Carrying and charging two devices is cumbersome and messy. Some smartphones offer you both a SIM slot and an eSIM. This allows you to easily get a second number for business-related calls and messages without having to buy a new device.

Although you can easily download a second line and get a dedicated number for work and additional features, an eSIM is also a viable solution.

You’ll have more options on devices

If you’re planning to use a phone for business, you’ll also be interested in its processing power, storage, battery life, embedded apps etc. When you get a phone from a carrier, you get a locked phone that you can’t use on other networks.

While you might have liked the plan or call charges, you have little choice in devices. An eSIM gives you more options. As it becomes popular, you’ll have a wider range of phones to choose from.

You can change plans

Mobile phone contracts can be oppressively limiting. As your business communication needs change, you may want to opt for another carrier but you’ll be obliged to stay with the provider for the duration of the contract.

With an eSIM, you can keep changing plans until you find the one that suits your needs. These unlocked phones allow you to quickly and easily change carriers. Or you can have numbers from different providers and use one for work-related calls.

You’ll save time

Getting a new number can mean having to negotiate in-store, requesting a new SIM and then getting it installed. While it’s difficult enough for a regular user, if you’re getting a business phone for your employees, it can needlessly interrupt your business.

You can easily add more devices and choose customised data plans with eSIMs. Soon, you’ll also get other eSIM-enabled devices such as tablets, which will help you remotely create customer-friendly business plans for your entire team.

You’ll find it easier to manage

If you have a large team of employees, eSIMs will make it easier to manage your business plans. By offering a streamlined user experience, the technology allows managers to quickly deploy devices that are better suited to employee needs.

You’ll be able to swap devices between employees when they join or exit your business. Plus, each user can be offered a personalised data plan. The fact that you’ll be able to do all this remotely helps you better manage distributed workforces and gain cost efficiencies.

All these advantages will naturally encourage you to consider using eSIMs. But is it the best technology out there? Are there better options, especially for business use?

eSIM vs VoIP

Having understood what is an eSIM, let’s now compare it to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which is fast becoming the preferred option for business users across sectors. At the outset, it’s safe to say that an eSIM gives you a number whereas a VoIP service will give you a business communication system. These differences confirm it.

The difference in connectivity: VoIP uses the internet to connect callers, as opposed to an eSIM which relies on the carrier’s cellular network. VoIP is a completely different protocol that doesn’t need traditional hardware. But eSIM uses the conventional mobile infrastructure to facilitate calls.

The difference in devices: An eSIM is attached to the device and while you can rewrite the information, it’s still tied to that particular phone. It’s not device-neutral. A VoIP application from a provider like Chalkboard can be downloaded and used on any connected device. Simply by signing up for a subscription, you’ll get a virtual number that you can use for business.

The difference in collaboration: Each eSIM will give you one number that will be attached to a device. With VoIP, you can share your numbers. Chalkboard lets your team members share their numbers, which will significantly amplify your internal collaboration and customer service.

The difference in features: An eSIM has certain demonstrable advantages over the traditional SIM card but you don’t get any additional features. What you get is what’s usually provided by carriers. VoIP numbers such as Chalkboard give you business tools including auto-reply, contact organisation, group broadcast and advanced texting to grow your business.

The difference in cost: To get an eSIM, you need to buy a new device enabled with it. To get VoIP, you only have to download the application. The monthly charges are also lower for VoIP services especially if you make long-distance or international calls.

How safe is an eSIM?

Those searching for ‘ what is an eSIM?’ will be glad to know that while the security architecture of eSIMs is the same as that of physical SIM cards, they tend to be more secure. eSIMs are not bound to any particular physical locations. As long as they’re in a place with an internet connection, their security protocols will protect them and the data inside.

The fact that they are device-centric also makes them user-centric. If your eSIM phone gets stolen, the new owner can’t remove your SIM card and put in a different one. This makes them virtually useless to thieves since your phone can be easily tracked if they continue using your number.

Which mobile networks support eSIMs?

In the UK, three of the four leading networks support eSIM-compatible devices. These are EE, O2 and Vodafone. Three has plans to resume its trial for eSIM support later in 2022. Virgin Mobile has eSIM support but only for its current customers. BT also supports eSIMs but it’s limited to its BT Business customers.

A larger number of carriers offer eSIM support in the US. These include AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless, US Cellular, Cellcom, Boost Mobile, C Spire, H2O Wireless, Strata, Tracfone and Spectrum Mobile among others.

Remember that the networks that support eSIMs may not explicitly advertise it. You’ll have to search online, contact their customer support or go in-store to know whether they have eSIM support.

Do all networks support eSIMs?

Not every network was quick to adopt the technology. Certain major brands and low-cost carriers were reluctant to offer eSIM support in the beginning – and even now.

With physical SIM cards, if there’s loss or damage, the customer has to pay to get a new card. With eSIMs, there’s little chance of either of those happening. Plus, mobile carriers want more walk-ins to their stores, which allows them to sell accessories. With eSIMs, customer walk-ins would drop since they can remotely configure their settings.

But eventually, all networks will support eSIMs due to competition and changing customer expectations. The statistics prove it. By the end of 2020, 175 carriers had eSIM support for compatible devices in around 69 countries.

Do all smartphones have an eSIM?

Motorola Razr was the first smartphone to roll out eSIM-only phones. The latest smartphones from all lead manufacturers including Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft have eSIMs. You can also find other devices such as laptops and tablets that are eSIM-enabled.

While most brands offer both eSIM and physical SIM card slots now, the move is to offer eSIM-only devices by 2025. Once customers get used to eSIM devices, one can safely presume that there will be no going back to either physical SIMs or dual-capability devices.

Best-selling smartphones that have eSIM enabled

These are the major brands and their models that are currently eSIM-enabled.

Apple

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro

  • iPhone SE 2

  • iPhone XR

  • iPhone XS

  • iPhone XS Max

  • iPhone 12 Mini

  • iPhone 12

  • iPhone 12 Pro

  • iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • iPhone SE 3

  • iPhone 13

  • iPhone 13 Mini

  • iPhone 13 Pro

  • iPhone 13 Pro Max

  • iPhone 14

  • iPhone 14 Pro

  • iPhone 14 Plus

  • iPhone 14 Pro Max

You can activate two eSIMs on iPhone 14 and 13 models. At the time of writing, certain iPhones from China, Macau and Hong Kong don’t offer eSIM. Importantly, the latest series, iPhone 14 doesn’t support physical SIM cards in the US.

Samsung

  • Samsung Galaxy S20

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

  • Samsung Galaxy S20+

  • Samsung Galaxy S21

  • Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy S21+ Ultra 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy S22+

  • Samsung Galaxy S22

  • Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy Fold 3

  • Samsung Galaxy Fold

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G

  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G Fold

Google

  • Google Pixel 2 (Only with Google Fi)
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Google Pixel 3
  • Google Pixel 3 XL
  • Google Pixel 3a
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
  • Google Pixel 4
  • Google Pixel 4a
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • Google Pixel 5
  • Google Pixel 5a
  • Google Pixel 6
  • Google pixel 6a
  • Google Pixel 6 Pro

In Taiwan, Japan and Australia, Google Pixel 3 devices don’t offer eSIM capability. Similarly, Google Pixel 3a devices available in South East Asia are also not eSIM-enabled.

Motorola

  • Motorola Razr
  • Motorola Razr 5G

Others

Some models from Oppo, Rakuten, Sony Xperia, Nuu Mobile, and Honor also support eSIMs.

I’m a business user: Should I get a phone with an eSIM?

If you’re looking to upgrade your device and need an additional number specifically for work, you can consider getting a phone with an eSIM, assuming that your phone will also support a physical SIM card.

But if you aren’t planning to buy a new smartphone and want a second number for work, the logical solution is to get a virtual number app.

A second-line app gives you not just a number but also business features including auto-reply, voicemail, contact organisation, group broadcast, call forwarding and advanced texting. So, what you get is an advanced business communication system rather than merely an additional number.

The future of eSIM and wireless service providers

With more manufacturers rolling out eSIM-compatible devices and more carriers offering support, eSIM will see greater adoption among consumers. The real push will come when brands offer eSIM-only devices and users find no need for dual-capability devices.

According to research from Counterpoint's Emerging Technology Opportunities Service, six billion eSIM-capable devices will enter the market over the next five years.

For customers, this translates to the removal of complex connectivity. Right now, users are responsible for connectivity and with eSIMs becoming popular, this task will be managed by manufacturers.

iSIM: The next leap in technology

Offering the same advantages as eSIM, iSIM (Integrated Subscriber Identity Module) is embedded with TRE (Tamper-Resistant Element) on the SoC or System-on-a-Chip. It takes up less space than an eSIM and is integrated into the chipset of smartphones.

With 5G becoming more popular, this transition can empower devices with more processing power and a robust set of features.

Download Chalkboard today

Interested in learning more about getting a second line for work? No contracts, no second phone, no SIM cards, and no hassle.

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Jargon-busting eSIM terminology

If you’re considering getting one, beyond knowing what an eSIM is, it would be helpful to understand these terms.

SIM

An integrated circuit that stores the international mobile subscriber identity number which helps identify users.

UICC

Used in mobile terminals, universal integrated circuit card or UICC is the smart card that stores and secures personal data.

eSIM

Embedded in the phone, an eSIM allows you to activate a plan from your mobile carrier without having to insert a physical SIM card.

SM-DP

Subscription Manager-Data Preparation readies profiles and then manages their secure downloading and installation onto an eSIM or eUICC.

SM-SR

Subscription Manager-Secure Routing is a process to securely deliver operator credentials to a SIM and then remotely manage the SIM after that.

LPA

Local Profile Assistant manages the profiles on an eSIM and acts as a bridge between the eUICC chip and SM-DP+.

Now that you know what an eSIM is, it will be easier for you to decide whether you need one – or whether you should opt for other solutions that offer better efficiencies.

All information provided in this guide was believed to be correct at the time of publishing. However, please be aware of future changes.

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