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The eSIM has gently landed, with it now being used in the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Z Flip, as well as in the iPhone 11, Google’s Pixel 4, the Galaxy Fold, and the Motorola Razr. The meaning of this switch depends on the handset; in phones like the Razr your plastic SIM card is completely ditched, whilst the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S20 allow for two phone numbers to work with one phone.

Your SIM is the chip that goes into your phone and lets it connect to the cellular network, making calls and text from your number possible. An eSIM has the exact same function, but there’s not a removable plastic chip, just a permanent fixture inside your phone’s hardware.

This might not be the sexiest technological revolution, it won’t draw the same excitement as a folding screen or a lens that can take pictures in the dark, yet it’s one of the most important elements of your phone. No SIM card means no connection to your carrier and takes it down to a glorified iPod. Just as the way you interact with your display is changing, so is your SIM, and it’s a definite improvement.

What is all the fuss about with eSIMs? Should you care? These are important questions, and you’ve come to the right place to find out what an eSIM is and why it’s going to change things for you.

Take it from the top, what’s an eSIM?

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It stands for “embedded subscriber identity module”, your eSIM is a small chip that sits inside your phone and does exactly what your ever-shrinking plastic SIMs have been doing for years. A SIM card gives your phone access to your carrier so you can use your number and tells the network which services you’re subscribed to.

Why should I care about the eSIM?

Most SIM cards are locked to a particular carrier so you have to change out the SIM to change carrier. On the other hand, an eSIM can be programmed and reprogrammed at will so you can jump between your service providers, as well as cancel or start a new service without having to put in a new SIM card every time. 

Space currently taken up by the trays where your SIM card goes can now be used for increased battery sizes or to add new cameras or other bits of tech. The loss of the SIM card slot will probably be the death of the MicroSD slot for expandable storage, something which has been happening in slow burn for a while.

The eSIM is still young, and as such the way migration and change is being handled by cell companies is still a little clunky – more on this further down – but you can be sure that the day is fast approaching where we can tap-swipe-tap and change our service provider.

Who’s using the eSIM already?

Not too many phone companies have adopted the technology as yet, these are the ones that have:

  • Apple’s iPhone XS, XS Max, XR, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are all eSIM enabled and also have the old-style SIM.
  • Google’s Pixel 2, 3, 3A and 4 can also take the standard SIM and use eSIM as well.
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Fold has an eSIM built in, along with a tray for a micro-SIM.
  • The Motorola Razr has no space for a normal SIM, it’s eSIM only for this groundbreaker.
  • Samsung’s Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra can take a standard and an eSIM connection, as well as the new Galaxy Z Flip. You won’t be able to use the eSIM when it’s launched but a future update will activate it.

What’s the point of a standard and eSIM?

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On the Apple iPhones that have the physical and eSIM, you can use your phone with two different carriers and use two different phone numbers at once. One benefit is being able to have your work number with T-Mobile and personal number with Verizon both routed through the one handset. You can do this on iPhones because they’re not locked to a carrier and can work across lots of companies. 

Having both an eSIM and a normal one is useful for those who travel a lot too. You can sign up your eSIM to a local data plan when you head overseas rather than paying through the nose for roaming fees. Getting your eSIM set up with GigSky before you take off also means your data will be working as soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off. 

You can carry on as normal if you want, you don’t have to have both SIMs activated or in use at the same time or at all. When you get your phone from your carrier they’ve usually already installed a SIM ready to get you connected. 

Buying a phone that doesn’t already have a SIM card from certain retailers or websites like Swappa, means you have to go into a store for your carrier or get a SIM card delivered and then activate it. This hassle is removed when you have an eSIM, you can get started with your carrier service almost immediately.

Are eSIMs the future for everyone?

You can pretty much guarantee it, yes. There are clear economic as well as environmental advantages to phasing out plastic SIMs; they can get rid of the large chunk of plastic that you get your current SIM card with. 

I want to use my eSIM, what are the carrier requirements?

There are plenty of carriers across the globe that work with eSIMs and Apple has a full list of them available. 

The Google Pixel isn’t quite so straightforward. The Google prepaid wireless carrier, Google Fi, can use the eSIM. Some carriers like AT&T and Sprint can use the eSIM on the Pixel 4 but can’t access them on older models. 

There’s no standardization, as yet, about which carriers support which handsets, and things aren’t any more simple when you want to have a dual-SIM setup. 

For Pixel users wanting to access the eSIM functionality, it’s best to get in touch with your wireless carrier and see if they support your exact model yet.

eSIMs aren’t just for phones

As well as in the newest phones on the market, you can find eSIMs in the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, both of which use the new type of SIM to connect to your carrier. There are also iPad models that come with cellular connections and use eSIM hardware, and it’s even creeping into laptops with the Surface Pro equipped with an eSIM.

How do I get my eSIM started?

This is going to depend on who your carrier is. If you’re with AT&T there’ll be a card that you get with your eSIM activation details on it. On the card will be a QR code that you use to set up the eSIM with your details. Another option is setting it up through an app as Verizon Wireless does. 

The best way to understand the process for you is to speak with your carrier directly. 

To get the eSIM ready to go on your iPhone takes mere moments. To see where the future is heading, with eSIM only phones, you can check out the new Motorola Razr folding phone with its funky new hinge, for just $1,499. You can also try it out on the Galaxy Z Flip, which is the same shape but with a cheaper price tag of $1,380.

The article was originally written by Jason Cipriani at cnet.

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