What is an eSim and what will it mean for you in 2018 and 2019?

eSim compared to traditional sim cards. Credit emnify.com

What is an eSim?

eSim is a standard that’s been developed by the GSMA, the body that generates global standards for the mobile telecoms industry.

They’ve basically come to the conclusion that current SIM technology is no longer fit for purpose so have devised the eSim standard.

As the eSim is embedded into the electronics of the device it sits in it’s absolutely tiny, many times smaller than a nano sim. It’s not even a sim card so there’s no need to insert the oddly shaped chip into an eSim enabled phone - it all happens digitally.

Who’s adopted eSim technology so far?

The biggest adopter so far has been Apple who added the eSim to their Apple Watch 3, no doubt attracted by the tiny amount of space it takes up, making this particularly valuable in devices the size of a watch.

The eSim was also added to the Pixel 2, and we’d expect it to make its way to the Pixel 3 later this year too, even though the eSim was only available on Google’s own Project Fi.

Expect to see eSim technology become adopted even further in smaller devices such as watches and fitness trackers that need data connectivity independent of a phone.

The major stumbling block to eSim being adopted widely is network adoption, currently the only network with eSim technology in the UK is EE, though expect others to follow suit as consumer demand increases and more and more manufacturers adopt the technology.

What does eSim mean for you?

If all this sounds a bit technical and won’t have much impact on you, then think again (okay, so it isn’t going to be life changing but you will notice the change).

You won’t have to deal with the following when eSim is adopted:

  • PAC codes - no need to request this from one network to give to another - the swap can be done digitally, either over the phone or on a website or app

  • Different sized sims - meaning you need to work out what size you need before swapping

  • The odd little pin thingy that you need to open the sim tray and can never find when you need it

  • Fat phones - smaller sim means smaller phones, a sim card doesn’t look a like a lot but the electronics needed to mount and interface with it adds up, manufacturers will be glad to get the space back

Other potential benefits might be a reduction in roaming costs for frequent travellers, when going abroad (outside of the EU). It never seemed worth it to go to a shop, buy a new sim, and swap it out. Now you’ll potentially be able to by a package in country directly from your phone, activating a new temporary sim abroad.

Who’s adopting eSim?

You’ll be glad to know that in the UK, the major networks are adopting eSim. EE already has it and is offering the eSim on the Apple Watch 3, O2’s current owner Telefonica is adopting it, as is Vodafone and 3. It remains to be seen whether smaller MVNO operators (think Virgin, Tesco or Giffgaff) get this technology cascaded automatically from their operator networks or whether they’ll have to wait.

From a handset manufacturer perspective, Apple is clearly on board with the Watch 3, though of course, they can be patchy adopting new technologies universally across their range (think USB-C on the Macbook, but not on the current range of iPhones). Samsung should also working on devices with eSim.

Given Apple and Samsung have had a tendency to drive the tech agenda in terms of new handset features, expect other manufacturers to adopt eSim too within a few years as a way of maintaining parity.

What eSim means for your contract

The networks are worried that eSim technology may lead to more network switching. The PAC request process undoubtedly means that some customers who could get a better deal on another network don’t bother moving because of the (relative) hassle of requesting a PAC code from a sometimes pushy contact centre sales team and getting sorted out with a new contract before the PAC code expires. Of course you also need to deal with some downtime when switching between networks. If this becomes instant and seamless then more people may be willing to make a money saving switch.

For businesses, this could be an even more attractive concept. Currently many larger businesses moving network need to start a fairly major project to distribute new phones, port numbers and distribute matching sim cards to their workforce, especially of a number of sites or where there are remote workers. eSim technology should make that provisioning process much simpler for businesses to undertake.

The ability to add eSims to a range of devices will make it easy to add connectivity to a broader range of devices, expect to see eSims popping up in laptops, tablets, watches and wearables all over the place; expect the networks to follow suit with a whole new range of products to sell you.

Have you heard of eSim? Do you think it’ll change much for you? Let us know in the comments.

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