Difference Between eSIM and Regular SIM Card

There’s been plenty of talk about eSIMs and their impact in the long run. There are some obvious myths floating around as well as concerns for users who are looking to make the switch. We try to answer some of these questions in this article with the hope that you learn more about the key differences between eSIM and a regular SIM card. So here’s eSIM vs SIM card.

What is an eSIM?

Well, as most would imagine, an eSIM doesn’t stand for electronic SIM. Instead, eSIM stands for Embedded Subscriber Identity Module, which is a method to allow the SIM and the carrier information to be saved within the device rather than on a physical entity like a SIM card. This allows you to have one SIM slot free for your smartphone, effectively turning your phone into a dual SIM offering. In theory, as well as practice, an eSIM works exactly the same as a standard physical SIM, but the way to activate it differs from carrier to carrier. Needless to say, an eSIM is an excellent alternative to a physical SIM card, particularly if you’re looking to travel. It also helps that most phones that support eSIM also come with dual-SIM capabilities, like the new iPhone 11 lineup, for example.

Difference Between eSIM and Regular SIM Card

SIM cards have been around for decades now, so it’s hard to make the switch to an eSIM out of the blue. This is why it helps to know how an eSIM can be beneficial for you before you make the decision. Let’s say you travel a lot, or simply want to have two lines on your eSIM enabled phone (personal + business or something along those lines). This means you can have one eSIM and one physical SIM running in tandem (as long as the smartphone supports it). Physical SIMs can be slightly hard to change each time, while eSIMs are fairly easy as all you need to do is scan a QR code from the carrier, and your new number + SIM will be registered on your device. However, it is always recommended to seek guidance from the carrier before you begin the eSIM process.

Using the aforementioned travel scenario, let’s say you have your primary number registered as an eSIM. In this case, you can simply go to the country of their choice and get a local SIM card, and use it as a Travel SIM. All the while, your eSIM will continue to run. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why people need to make the switch to an eSIM added with the kind of flexibility that it offers.

Another crucial factor to keep in mind is to make sure your phone supports eSIM as well as dual SIM capabilities before you male up your mind. In the U.S., carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile offer eSIMs to their customers, while the likes of Sprint and Boost Mobile only offer physical SIM cards. However, given the prevalence of eSIM smartphones in the market today, including the recently launched Galaxy S20, more carriers around the world are expected to join the fray soon.

Phones and smartwatches with eSIM

An eSIM tech makes more sense on a smartwatch as it has too many components crammed in already. This is what we’ve seen with wearables like the Apple Watch as well as the Samsung Galaxy Watch. But this is not particularly new for Samsung as it offered the Gear S2 smartwatch back n 2016 with eSIM capabilities, although not a lot of carriers supported it at the time. Keeping this in mind, it’s quite a surprise that Samsung waited until the galaxy s20 to bring this feature knowing that the company was using eSIM on its wearables back in 2016.

Thankfully, one can safely say that’s changed now given the increase in the number of eSIM wearables and smartphones in the market. But there are some phones available today that come with an eSIM by default. Let’s take a look at a few of them that launched recently.

  • Samsung galaxy s20
  • Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max
  • Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL
  • Moto Razr -2019 (Verizon)

While some manufacturers are still wary of using eSIMs on their phones, companies like Apple and Google have done it for a year or two now. Phones like the iPhone XS come with eSIM on board, which broke cover in 2018. Google’s Pixel 2 lineup also supported eSIM by default. The likes of Motorola are only now joining the club. Apple also offers eSIM on cellular variants of the iPad, including the new iPad Pro models.

If you’re getting the 2019 Moto Razr, for example, the eSIM module is embedded in the motherboard. This is only seen on the Verizon variant of the smartphone, while other eSIM enabled phones let you add data plans at will.

Fortunately, the list of eSIM compatible phones is expected to get larger over the coming months as more smartphones with the technology hit the markets. Another concern for customers is that an eSIM is almost never offered on a prepaid plan since it makes it easier for customers to switch over to another network whenever they choose. But if you’re on postpaid, it doesn’t quite make sense when you’re traveling and don’t particularly need to use your primary account.

As you can see, there are several caveats involved with using an eSIM in its current form, but that’s not the technology’s fault in any way. Carriers have been largely hesitant to offer this technology even when we’ve had eSIM phones in the market for a couple of years now. On its own, an eSIM phone is extremely capable and can make life much easier for its users.

Some Android manufacturers are shying away from eSIM tech due to the fact that they offer dual physical SIM card slots on their phones, with the second slot usually acting as a microSD card slot for storage expansion. This is a good option as well, but nothing can beat the convenience of an eSIM card. But this can only be done when prepaid carriers can also offer eSIM for their customers.

  1. Can I remove an eSIM once activated?

    Technically, no. Since there's nothing to remove, you can't take anything out. However, users can go to the mobile or cellular settings to disable or deactivate the SIM card.

  2. Can I use a physical SIM and eSIM at the same time?

    Yes! This is one of the biggest advantages of having an eSIM on your smartphone, as it allows you to use the SIM card slot for another number/SIM.

  3. How do I activate eSIM?

    The process to activate an eSIM differs between carriers. While most involve adding a SIM plan to your phone by scanning a QR code, some carriers may opt to do it manually. Keeping this in mind, it's always better to get in touch with your preferred carrier to help you through the process.

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Tech writer based in London, UK. Have prior experience working with major media conglomerates. I'm also a lover of all things tech. Well, basically anything with a display and a power button on it.

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