Apple switches to eSIMs: all you need to know about eSIMs before iPhone change

·2-min read
The move to eSIMs only applies to the United States –for now ( Brett Jordan on Unsplash)
The move to eSIMs only applies to the United States –for now ( Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

There’s something missing from the new iPhone 14 – a tray for the SIM card.

In the US alone for now, but surely a sign of things to come, Apple is eradicating those tiny plastic SIM cards and opting for eSIMs instead.

But what are eSIMs and are they good for consumers? We’ve got the answers.

What does an eSIM do?

An eSIM – or embedded SIM to give its full name – replaces the familiar SIM card with a tiny chip on the phone that stores all the necessary information about your phone network and number.

If you thought modern SIM cards were small, eSIM chips are much smaller – 60 times smaller than today’s Nano SIMs. That has two big advantages for phone makers such as Apple.

First, they can cram more components inside their phones without increasing the size. Second, the absence of the SIM tray makes it easier for manufacturers to fully seal and waterproof their phones, especially as headphone sockets are now being phased out too.

It’s also good for the environment. Millions of tiny bits of plastic no longer need to be manufactured, packaged, transported and inserted into phones. Everything is done over the network.

How do you activate an eSIM?

When you buy a new phone, it’s possible for the network or the retailer to activate the eSIM on the device. Alternatively, you can use a phone network’s app or a QR code to activate an eSIM, or transfer an eSIM from one phone to another.

At least, that’s the theory. eSIMs are still in their infancy – especially here in the UK – and it can sometimes be a lot of hassle to transfer eSIMs. We’ve heard tales of customers having to visit one of their network’s stores to activate an eSIM on a new device, which rather eliminates the convenience of the eSIM in the first place.

Can I get an eSIM?

While most of the UK’s major mobile networks now support eSIMs, it’s not a given. Three, for example, is still only offering eSIMs for smartwatches, more than two years after it first experimented with them.

Many of the virtual networks, such as iD Mobile and GiffGaff don’t yet support eSIMs either. That partly explains why Apple is still putting conventional SIM trays in iPhone 14 models heading to the European market.

There’s no guarantee that your phone will support eSIMs, either. There’s an eSIM chip built into recent iPhones and some premium Android handsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21 ranges, but the vast majority of handsets don’t yet offer eSIM support.

That said, where Apple leads, the smartphone industry tends to follow. eSIMs will almost certainly become the default within a few years, so get ready to wave goodbye to those fiddly little bits of plastic!