Five years later, is the eSIM finally ready to take on the world?

Five years later, is the eSIM finally ready to take on the world?
pixel 6 pro multi sim support

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority


Smartphone technology follows a strange dichotomy. For one thing, it has cutting-edge imaging credentials that power some of the best camera phones around, more power than you can shake, and incredible fast-charging breakthroughs. On the other hand, there are SIM card slots. Five years have passed since the arrival of the eSIM card in smartphones, and yet the computer in our pockets is still tethered to a plastic tab that hasn’t changed much since its debut in 1991. What’s up?

Has the eSIM standard finally caught up with the old school SIM? Why don’t we all live in a post SIM card world? Let’s take a closer look at the current state of eSIM adoption.

Have you already switched to eSIM?

2118 votes

Why are eSIMs still not common?

Set up eSIM on a galaxy s22 ultra

Dhruv Butani / Android Authority

The United States leads the charge in setting global technology trends. As a carrier-driven market, US-based carriers have been quite hostile to expanding eSIM adoption. A recent report on the state of the eSIM consumer market by GSMA suggests that awareness of the embedded digital format stands at just 17% in the US. This figure drops further for markets such as the UK and Canada. Our own survey shows that only 26% of the surveyed audience, who tend to adopt modern technology much more than the average population, have switched to digital SIM cards.

It’s a bit surprising for a standard that debuted in 2017 with the Pixel 2 and iPhone X. But figuring out the lack of a full switch to eSIM cards isn’t rocket science. In fact, the reason is quite simple: fear of rotation.

eSIMs make switching carriers as simple as switching Wi-Fi networks.

An eSIM-enabled phone can store multiple SIM cards in the device. It makes switching networks as simple as changing your Wi-Fi network, and that’s anything but convenient for mobile carriers. For users in areas with patchy connectivity or rural networks, switching more easily to alternative carriers means lost business for major players like Verizon or AT&T. In markets like India, dual-width SIM cards for better data, voice, or preferential rates are exceptionally common. Eliminating the friction of changing physical SIM cards carries the risk of losing a customer, and it’s no secret that carriers have been working hard to avoid this.

Setting up an eSIM should be easy, but the reality is a bit different.

In theory, setting up an eSIM on any network should be as simple as pointing the camera at a QR code and activating a line. In practice, that is rarely true. verizon support page suggests that Android users should call a support service to activate an eSIM. iPhone users have it a little easier and can directly add the line to the phone through the Verizon website. In the meantime, Vodafone requires you to install an app. Finally, the likes of Airtel India ask you to play a game of finger faster first by requesting an SMS response within 60 seconds to proceed with adding an eSIM to your line. None of these are as simple as pulling out a tray and popping in your SIM card.

Meanwhile, as Internet-based calls, texts, and video messages become the norm, carriers are left with fewer and fewer add-ons to boost revenue. Adding sky-high spectrum prices for features like 5G and eSIM becomes even less attractive for operators. Tangential features like premium-priced international roaming plans are another profit driver that eSIMs elude.

Premium add-ons such as international roaming contracts face a tough challenge with eSIM services for travel.

When done correctly, getting started with an international eSIM can be a simple two- or three-click process to get you onboarded and onward. My colleague Rita and I have had a fantastic experience with travel eSIM services like Airalo. When I tried Airalo earlier this year, the process took just a few taps, indicating there was no real reason for eSIMs to be complicated. However, for most operators, that is not the case. While difficult to quantify, this unnecessary friction has certainly hampered consumer perception of eSIMs.

eSIMs are hard to market

eSIM chip on a finger

There is also the issue of marketability. a recent report by juniper research claims that there will be about 3.4 billion eSIM-enabled devices by 2025. It is estimated that nearly 1.2 billion devices already have eSIM support today. However, consumer awareness remains low and operators have had little incentive to drive such change.

Beyond the initial onboarding process and positive sentiment among frequent flyers, carriers and smartphone manufacturers have presented little benefit to end customers by giving up their SIM card slots. Most smartphone customers use a phone for two to three years and don’t need to change their SIM card after the initial setup. With the benefits of SIM swapping out of the way, there’s simply not enough incentive for smartphone users to give up the plastic SIM.

Aside from the ease of switching SIM cards, there is no apparent benefit to the average customer.

Even with the recently released iPhone 14 series, a phone that launched without standard SIM card slots in the US, there’s no apparent benefit to losing the ubiquitous format. Sure, the eSIM-only iPhone could push carriers to improve the onboarding process and push customers to switch their physical SIMs. However, the fact remains that customers do not gain anything despite losing an essential feature. The extra space in the phone should give customers bigger batteries or better sensors, but instead all they get is a piece of plastic instead of the SIM tray.

The iPhone 14 with eSIM is just a historical moment

Apple iPhone 14 vs iPhone 14 Pro Max standing

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Despite Apple’s unambitious approach to eSIM adoption, the eSIM-only iPhone 14 in the US could very well be the push that was needed to drive sweeping changes across the industry. On the one hand, it represents the beginning of a transition.

While the US is the first market to see the change, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a future where all iPhone models are eSIM-only. The iPhone 14 series wasn’t the first to opt for an eSIM-only approach; the foldable Motorola Razr came first. However, for better or worse, iPhones often set trends that resonate throughout the smartphone industry. We’ve seen this before with headphone jacks, and historical precedence suggests Apple’s eSIM gamble will be just the confidence boost Android OEMs need to jump in feet-first.

iPhone 14 with eSIM only puts pressure on carriers and smartphone vendors to go with the standard.

Apple’s overwhelming popularity in the North American market also puts pressure on carriers that were still resistant to introducing eSIM support. Not only that, it incentivizes carriers to improve the onboarding process.

Android 13 sets the stage for eSIM mass adoption

Android 13 Easter Egg

C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

On the Android side, Google has made major moves with Android 13 to improve eSIM support. Dual SIM support is a big deal on Android devices and, until now, has required adding various eSIM hardware modules or sticking to the tested SIM slot plus eSIM hardware setup. That is about to change.

With android 13Google is finally introducing support for MEP or multiple built-in profiles. This will allow a single eSIM module in the phone to support multiple eSIM lines. It saves costs and space inside the phone, and the feature can be easily retrofitted to existing devices. It also makes dual activity eSIM setups a reality.

MEP support in Android 13 will make 5G-enabled dual eSIMs a reality. That’s critical for mass adoption.

While the feature is not yet active on any Android 13-based devices, the pixel series 7 It’s expected to get it via a future feature drop, and other Pixel phones should get it soon after as well. By removing a major restriction for eSIMs, the door is now open for all OEMs to accelerate the transition to eSIM cards.

The eSIM problem is technically solved, but the transition must be encouraged

Foldable Moto Razr folded upright on a table

Five years after the launch of the first eSIM-enabled device, most of the technical challenges surrounding the future of SIM cards have been resolved. What remains is the challenge of consumer education and the right incentives from smartphone manufacturers and carriers to push people through the transition.

The technical challenges around eSIMs are largely resolved, but smartphone providers and carriers need to give buyers an incentive to ditch the SIM.

While premium smartwatches and phones like the Moto Razr have demonstrated the benefits of eSIM when it comes to compact devices, future phones will need to feature highlights like bigger batteries or larger camera sensors to really show the benefits of giving up. to the old school SIM.

Lacking direct benefits for most customers, the eSIM transition must lead by showing clear hardware advantages rather than forced omission. eSIM is finally ready to go mainstream, but it’s up to smartphone manufacturers to convince users that it’s worth it.

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