eSIM: decryption of the replacement for your traditional SIM card

Will Apple finally have the head of plastic SIM cards to insert as it knew how to bury the floppy disk drive more than 20 years ago? With its iPhone 14, the Californian company no longer includes a SIM card port on its American models, thus forcing new owners to radically switch to eSIM. But by the way, what is an eSIM and, more importantly, what do we have to gain by no longer using the small chip that has accompanied us since the birth of the mobile phone?

Appeared in 2016, the eSIM standard is therefore quite recent. The first conclusive results, resulting from an emulation of a physical SIM card on a chip, date from 2017 and it is to Qualcomm that we owe this discovery. In five years, the rate of adoption of the technology has however been far from staggering, especially in France. However, the standard has been able to make a place for itself in the United States since 2017, in particular thanks to Google and its Pixel range, or even to Apple, which introduced the eSIM in 2018 with the iPhone XS.

The iPhone 14 on the left (US model) does not have a SIM slot, unlike the French model on the right.

The iPhone 14 on the left (US model) does not have a SIM slot, unlike the French model on the right.

© Apple

The eSIM for what benefits?

Abbreviation of Embedded SIM or SIM boarded in French, the eSIM is therefore an electronic SIM card integrated directly into a specific component of the smartphone. The SIM card thus becomes virtual, but retains the same properties as a physical SIM. One of the main advantages of this solution is the saving of space in the smartphone. Sure, nano-SIMs already take up significantly less space than the big SIMs of yore, but the eSIM is half the size of a nano-SIM.

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Size differences between SIMs

Changes in SIM size over time.

© DR

Another advantage is commissioning. Indeed, you no longer need to wait for your little piece of plastic in the mail to start using your terminal to the full. The eSIM can be activated quickly and simply by downloading and activating the card profile, usually just by scanning a QR Code.

Last but not least, the eSIM allows you to take advantage of the same package on several connected objects, such as your watch or tablet. Itou, some smartphones can store several eSIM packages (sometimes up to eight) on the same terminal. An asset when you travel a lot.

On the other hand, there is necessarily a downside to the use of the eSIM. This technology is not able to store contacts like a physical SIM card. These should therefore be stored directly on the smartphone’s memory or on a memory card – when possible.

Who can offer an eSIM?

All French operators can offer you a virtual SIM with more or less ease. Historically, Orange was the first to step into the breach. The operator and its subsidiary Sosh offer it to all their 4G and 5G customers on all packages. Activation costs €10, the same price as for a physical SIM. For owners of an Apple Watch, Orange allows you to activate a multi-SIM option in order to clone the number on the connected watch. A paid option at €5/month (plus €10 activation fee once again).

The offer is generally identical at SFR. With the operator Bouygues, the eSIM is offered on the Sensation and B&You plans. It will be free when subscribing to a Sensation package (4G or 5G) or will cost €10 if the phone is renewed. It will be necessary to offload 20 € if the eSIM replaces the physical card, whatever the package. Finally, at Free, the transition to the eSIM can be done directly in the process of purchasing a package. It will then cost 10 €.

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For foreign countries, operators generally offer relatively simple purchase and activation via an app. This is particularly the case of T-Mobile which allows, regardless of the geographical location, to configure an eSIM while subscribing to a package. Perfect if you plan to travel to the United States, for example. Other companies may also offer an eSIM abroad. As the activation takes place via a code or a QR Code, the user can prepare everything before their trip or wait until the day before. Please note that certain restrictions may apply. It may be an eSIM only for data and not a valid number in the country visited. The virtual SIM is then used in addition to the physical card.

A technology that is not available to everyone

If Google and Apple were among the precursors of the eSIM, they were quickly joined by other manufacturers such as Huawei, Samsung and Oppo. But it is clear that the technology has only been able to impose itself on the high-end models, the lower ranges being always confined to a double port of physical SIM cards.

A physical SIM card.

A physical SIM card.

© simon2579 / Getty Images

What future ?

As we explained in the preamble, the eSIM is far from being widely adopted in France, unlike in the United States. Its sustainability will therefore go through democratization within our borders, with manufacturers who could take inspiration from Apple by no longer offering a physical slot. A phenomenon that we can easily compare to the disappearance of the 3.5 mm mini-jack, strongly criticized at the beginning.

But the eSIM is not only used for smartphones, tablets and connected watches since it also integrates cars for GPS guidance or simply to have a permanent connection without a smartphone. The eSIM could eventually make it possible to include identity documents (electronic identity card, driving licence). As such, the eSIM would therefore only be used to integrate a telephone plan. However, the death of the physical SIM card is far from being decreed, at least in France.

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