In the near future, there will be no need to buy a standard physical SIM card from your mobile network provider. In fact device manufacturers are gradually sealing off this slot in favor of in-built eSIM cards. But what are eSIM cards? It is not the first time we are warning of phasing out of SIM cards in the future, we’ve been there and done that.

Before we can understand the modern eSIM, we need to go back to the beginning, i.e. what a standard SIM card is and what it does.

The term SIM literally means Subscriber Identity Module, and it’s just a simple memory chip that holds identity information about cellphone users. SIM cards are usually integrated into a UICC (Universal Integrated Circuit Card), PVC cards with metal contacts.

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SIM cards many things including an SMS memory (not used by modern smartphones) and personal contacts. The memory on standard SIM cards ranges from 8 KB to 256 KB, which is enough space for more than 250 contacts. However nowadays it’s much safer to keep your contacts in the cloud than on your SIM card.

In comes the e-SIM card

eSIM cards are the newest and most recent SIM card format, although they probably shouldn’t even be called that.

The name eSIM means embedded SIM, which is a SIM card integrated into something. It’s not a real SIM card, but rather an integrated chip that follows SON-8 standard directly within a device, which means it can’t be removed or switched out.

Why they are good


SIM in Uganda white

The number of contacts and how it works are the same as a regular SIM card, but you won’t have to worry about any foldable slots to support it. This chip is also much more reliable and less likely to cause mechanical failures. Plus, since it is smaller than a normal SIM and you don’t have to use a poker to eject it, it can be used in smaller devices, such as smartwatches.

eSIMs used to be limited to industrial devices, but in 2012, Apple declared that there weren’t any laws prohibiting their use in consumer products and so it began putting them into products like the iPad. The latest device to come with an eSIM card is the Apple Watch Series 3 4G/LTE.

The new Google Pixel 2 is the first smartphone with an eSIM (of course this only applies to the US) which allows users to choose their service provider and can instantly be activated if you switch mobile networks. Plus, it enables remote provisioning, which means, you don’t have to wait for your old card to be deactivated and the new one activated when you change SIM.

Image a new telecom provider that can let you switch, from MTN, Airtel, Africell seamlessly depending on coverage strength of both voice and data, well, such a company  can harness the power of eSIMs that let it activate its smartphones from within its own combined network during the initial device set up without having to wait for a SIM card.

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL_2
The new Google Pixel 2 phones use both standard SIM and eSIM technology

There is always a bad side

For users who change their smartphone regularly or if you have multiple devices at home with different SIM cards, this eSIM situation may make your life a bit more complicated. Every time you want to use a new device you’ll have to activate the SIM card through the software of that device. You can’t just pull out the SIM and put it into another device and be ready to go.

This could also be a problem if your phone’s running out of battery and you want to slip your SIM card into a friend’s phone to check on something or make a call. With eSIMs, this won’t be fast or easy.

eSIM cards still aren’t widely used. However, with the arrival of the Google Pixel 2 XL, we just might start seeing new options to activate and use eSIM cards.

The Google Pixel 2 XL is capable of using both an eSIM and a nano SIM card, but it’s still not sure whether it functions as a Dual SIM device, using both simultaneously.

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