What is eSIM? All you need to know about the growing phone tech

eSIM
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Letting you easily change mobile network providers in search of the best deal, embedded SIM (eSIM) eliminates the need to visit a phone store or wait for a physical SIM card to arrive in the post.

For decades, mobile phones and other portable devices have relied on a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card in order to connect to wireless mobile phone networks. As the name suggests, the card contains the details of the network and your account, to ensure that calls to your number come through to your handset.

The very first SIM cards were the size of a credit card, but thankfully they’ve become much smaller over time to fit in smaller gadgets.

Today’s nanoSIM cards are smaller than your fingernail, but there is still the hassle of needing to obtain the physical card. You need to either walk into your local phone store, or else order one and wait for it to arrive by mail – neither of which is very convenient when you’re in a hurry.

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What is eSIM?

eSIM is a tiny reprogrammable chip that is built directly into your smartphone, tablet, smartwatch or other compatible device. It stores your mobile network providers’ details and your customer ID, so it can mimic one or more physical SIM cards and easily switch between them.

The great thing about eSIM is that it’s a worldwide industry standard, so it works on a wide range of devices, across a wide range of mobile networks and in a wide range of countries.

What are the benefits?

For starters, eSIM makes it easy to move your mobile phone number and data plan to another network provider if you’ve found a better deal.

Even better, eSIM can manage multiple accounts simultaneously, connecting to different networks at the same time. For example, you can install at least eight eSIMs on an iPhone and use two phone numbers at the same time. 

One benefit of this is that you can mix and match different voice and data services from different providers, to ensure you’re getting the best value for money. Another benefit is that you can switch between services depending on which has the best local coverage.

eSIM is also very handy if you need two mobile numbers, such as a personal number and a work number. This way you don’t need to carry two physical handsets. You can make and receive calls from either number, without the need to swap physical SIM cards.

Physical SIM card
No longer on the hook: physical SIM cards could soon be a thing of the past. Photo by Andrey Metelev on Unsplash

You can also manage mobile accounts from different countries at the same time, which is perfect for travelling. For example, you can easily get a local number when you arrive at your destination, to avoid expensive roaming charges. 

Alternatively, you can turn on global roaming to retain access to your Australian number while abroad, while also getting a local mobile service at your destination to take advantage of cheaper local pricing.

One of the downsides is that you can’t quickly switch eSIMs between handsets, as you can with a physical SIM. This could be a problem if your handset breaks and you want to quickly switch to a backup phone.

Which Australian telcos support eSIM?

Initially, only Australia’s three major network operators Telstra, Optus and Vodafone supported eSIM. Today, many telcos that use the big three’s infrastructure, known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) also offer eSIM plans.

Boost Mobile is one of the most recent to roll out eSIMs, closely followed by TPG and iiNet. In addition to Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, here are the Australian telcos offering eSIMs:

  • AGL
  • Amaysim
  • Boost Mobile
  • Circles.Life
  • Everyday Mobile
  • Exetel
  • Felix Mobile
  • iiNet
  • Kogan Mobile
  • Lebara
  • More
  • Spintel
  • Superloop
  • Tangerine
  • TPG

The three big telcos offer eSIM on pre- and post-paid plans, whilst many MVNOs only support one or the other.

Which devices support eSIM?

Google’s Pixel phones have featured eSIMs since 2017, Apple’s iPhones introduced them in 2018 and Samsung has included eSIMs in its Galaxy line since 2020. Other manufacturers which support eSIM include Huawei, Sony Xperia, Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi.

Keep in mind, not every handset will let you use two active eSIM accounts at the same time. Some, only let you use one eSIM and one physical SIM at the same time.

Apart from smartphones, many tablets and smartwatches also support eSIM, and it’s starting to become more common in laptops.

Cheapest eSIM plans

Thanks to the ease of changing providers, you can save a decent amount of money on your phone bill. Many of the cheapest SIM plans include eSIM support, reducing the friction of finding a better deal.

These are the cheapest prepaid plans from telcos that support eSIM:

Meanwhile, here are the cheapest postpaid options:

With more supported devices and more telcos offering the technology, you have plenty of options when it comes to choosing your phone network provider.

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