Conventional SIM cards are small, electronic chips that can be inserted into wireless devices. These cards store basic information about phone users and are used by wireless carriers to identify which devices are on their networks. For those using conventional SIM cards, switching carriers requires removing an old carrier’s SIM card from a device and replacing it with a SIM card from a new carrier.
eSIMs or embedded-SIMs are an up-and-coming technology that will gradually replace conventional SIM cards. eSIMs can be provisioned remotely by carriers, and consumers can change carriers by updating their devices’ eSIM information.
Devices with eSIMs still have a physical chip similar to a conventional SIM card. However, these chips are not removable by end users. Instead, end-users can update information held on their embedded-SIMs using their phone’s software.
Current state of eSIMs
At the moment, eSIM technology is not widespread. In the U.S., the large majority of consumers don’t have phones that are eSIM compatible. However, that’s slowly changing as phone manufacturers release new devices. At the moment, devices that support eSIM technology nearly always support conventional SIM cards as well.
Expected effects of eSIMs
The introduction of eSIMs is likely to make it much easier for consumers to switch between wireless carriers. However, it’s still a bit unclear what the effects of the technology will be. There have been efforts by wireless network operators to prevent eSIMs from benefiting consumers as much as they have the potential to. Fortunately, the Department of Justice recently stepped in to address possible collusion.
In all likelihood, eSIMs will make it far easier for consumers to switch between wireless carriers:
- Subscribers purchasing services online can immediately activate their services without waiting for conventional SIM cards to be sent through the mail.
- International travelers may have better options when they are able to use eSIMs to connect with foreign carriers.
- Dynamic switching technology enabled by eSIMs may eventually allow consumers to regularly and automatically switch between networks to get the best prices and service quality.