eSIM: decryption of the replacement for your traditional SIM card

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

Released in 2016, the eSIM standard is therefore fairly new. The first conclusive results stemming from an emulation of a physical SIM card on a chip date from 2017, and we owe this discovery to Qualcomm. In five years, however, the speed of adoption of the technology has been far from overwhelming, especially in France. However, the standard has been able to carve out a place for itself in the US since 2017, thanks in particular to Google and its Pixel range, or even to Apple, which introduced 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.

© Apple

What are the benefits of eSIM?

Abbreviation for Embedded SIM or SIM boarded in French, 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 most important advantages of this solution is to save space in the smartphone. Of course, the nano-SIM already takes up significantly less than before, but the eSIM is half the size of a nano-SIM.

Advertising, your content continues below

Size differences between SIM cards

Changes in SIM size over time.

© DR

Another advantage is commissioning. In fact, you no longer have to wait for your little piece of plastic in the mail to start using your terminal to its full potential. eSIM can be activated quickly and easily by downloading and activating the card profile, usually just by scanning a QR code.

Last but not least, eSIM allows you to benefit from the same package on several connected objects, such as your watch or tablet. In addition, 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 eSIM. This technology is not capable of storing contacts like a physical SIM card. These should therefore be saved directly on the smartphone’s memory or on a memory card – whenever possible.

Who can offer an eSIM?

All French operators can offer you a virtual SIM card 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 to clone the number of the connected watch. A paid option of €5/month (plus €10 activation fee again).

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

Advertising, your content continues below

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

A technology that is not available to everyone

If Google and Apple were among the forerunners of 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 high-end models, with the lower ranges always limited to a dual port of physical SIM cards.

A physical SIM card.

A physical SIM card.

© simon2579 / Getty Images

What future?

As we explained in the preamble, eSIM is far from widespread in France, unlike in the US. Its sustainability will therefore go through democratization within our borders, with manufacturers able to 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 eSIM is not only used for smartphones, tablets and connected watches, as 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, driver’s license). As such, the eSIM would therefore only be used to integrate a phone plan. However, the death of the physical SIM card is far from being decreed, at least in France.

Advertising, your content continues below

Leave a Comment