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 in American models, thus forcing new owners to radically switch to eSIM. But really, what is an eSIM and, more importantly, what should we get when the little chip that has been with us since the birth of the mobile phone is no longer usable?
Appearing in 2016, the eSIM standard is so new. The first conclusive results, which resulted from an emulation of a physical SIM card on a chip, date from 2017 and it is Qualcomm that we owe this discovery. In five years, the rate of technology adoption is still far from shocking, especially in France. However, the standard has been able to create a place for itself in the United States since 2017, mainly thanks to Google and its Pixel range, or even Apple, which introduced eSIM in 2018 in the iPhone XS.
What benefits is eSIM for?
Short for Embedded SIM or SIM boarded in French, an eSIM is an electronic SIM card that is integrated directly into a specific part 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 saving space on the smartphone. Sure, nano-SIMs already take up a lot less space than the big SIMs of old, but an eSIM is half the size of a nano-SIM.
Another advantage is commissioning. In fact, you don’t have to wait for your little piece of plastic in the mail to start using your terminal completely. 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. However, some smartphones can store multiple eSIM packages (sometimes up to eight) on the same terminal. An asset if you travel a lot.
On the other hand, there must be a downside to using eSIM. This technology is not able to store contacts like a physical SIM card. So it should be stored directly on the smartphone memory or on a memory card – if possible.
Who can offer an eSIM?
All French operators can give you a virtual SIM very easily. Historically, the Orange was the first to enter the offense. The operator and its subsidiary Sosh offer it to all their 4G and 5G customers in all packages. Activation costs €10, the same price as a physical SIM. For Apple Watch owners, Orange allows you to activate a multi-SIM option to clone the number of the connected watch. A paid option at €5/month (plus €10 activation fee once more).
The offer is mostly the same as SFR. With the operator Bouygues, the eSIM is offered on the Sensation and B&You plans. It can be free when subscribing to a Sensation package (4G or 5G) or cost €10 when the phone is renewed. It is necessary to offload 20 € when the eSIM replaces the physical card, regardless of the plan. Finally, in Libre, eSIM transfer can be done directly in the process of purchasing a package. It then costs 10 €.
For foreign countries, operators usually offer a relatively simple purchase and activation through an app. This is especially the case with T-Mobile which allows, regardless of geographic location, to configure an eSIM while subscribing to a package. Perfect if you plan to travel to the United States, for example. Some companies may also offer an eSIM abroad. While the activation takes place through a code or a QR Code, the user can prepare everything before their trip or wait until the day before. Please note that some restrictions may apply. This may be an eSIM for data only and not a valid number in the country being visited. A virtual SIM is then used in addition to the physical card.
A technology that is not available to everyone
If Google and Apple are among the pioneers of eSIM, they are quickly joined by other manufacturers such as Huawei, Samsung and Oppo. But it is clear that the technology was only able to impose itself on high-end models, the lower ranges are always limited to a double port of physical SIM cards.
As we explained in the introduction, eSIM is far from widely adopted in France, unlike in the United States. So its continuation will go through the democratization within our borders, with manufacturers who can take inspiration from Apple by no longer offering a physical slot. An event that we can easily compare to the disappearance of the 3.5 mm mini-jack, strongly criticized at the beginning.
But eSIM is not only used for smartphones, tablets and connected watches because it also integrates in cars for GPS guidance or just to have a permanent connection without a smartphone. The eSIM will eventually be possible to include identification documents (electronic identity card, driver’s license). As such, the eSIM can only be used to bundle a phone plan. However, the death of the physical SIM card is far from ruled, at least in France.