eSIM: Never Fiddle Again

Fumbling the SIM card into the new cell phone? Will be superfluous with the eSIM. Apple is now planning an iPhone with only the integrated SIM. We explain how it works.

If you want to make calls with a mobile phone, you need a SIM card. The telephone number is linked to it and it serves as a kind of identification in the mobile network. With the eSIM, there has been an alternative to the classic plastic SIM card worldwide. Tehnologijaviews explains how the eSIM works, what it brings and what disadvantages it has.

What actually is an eSIM?

The eSIM is a small chip that is built into the cell phone. The contract data of the selected mobile phone provider are stored on it. The "e" stands for "embedded". The eSIM is the alternative to the conventional plastic SIM card that you insert yourself when setting up the cell phone. In the long term, the eSIM could replace the classic SIM card. Apparently, Apple is already planning to introduce an eSIM-only variant of the iPhone 14, which is due to appear this fall.

What do you need the eSIM for?

The eSIM serves – just like the conventional SIM card – to identify the user in the mobile network . The phone number and a globally unique identification number, the IMSI. Both are transmitted to the mobile network when making calls and sending text messages; a connection is only established if both numbers are valid. In addition to smartphones, some tablets and smart watches also have an eSIM integrated in order to be able to make phone calls and establish an Internet connection via mobile data.

How does the eSIM differ from a classic SIM card?

With a classic SIM card, the telephone number and the information on the chosen mobile phone tariff are stored on the physical data carrier. If you want to change your contract, you have to order a new SIM card from the provider or buy it in a shop and then insert the card into your cell phone. With the eSIM, on the other hand, the required information reaches the mobile phone via the Internet. The contract data package can be changed via software by mobile operators that support eSIM.

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How do I use an eSIM?

If you want to use an eSIM, you first have to check whether your smartphone model has the small chip. If the device is equipped accordingly, it still needs to be clarified whether your own provider offers eSIM tariffs and at what cost. Finally, you tell Vodafone or o2, for example, that you want to set up an eSIM. The provider then provides the activation data, for example via a QR code that you scan with your cell phone. If you have previously used a classic SIM card, you can exchange it with the provider for an eSIM.

Why do manufacturers build the eSIM into their devices?

The eSIM gives device manufacturers more design freedom, because the small, fixed chip takes up less space than a conventional SIM card and it does not have to be accessible from the outside. The omission of the card slot on the housing also makes devices more waterproof. In the USA, for example, many smartphones are already being produced exclusively with eSIM. But the industry is already working on an even more space-saving variant: with the new iSIM, the chip could be omitted entirely and the SIM function integrated directly into the processor.

Which models have an eSIM integrated?

All iPhones that have been on the market since 2018 have an eSIM chip in addition to the slot for a classic SIM card - i.e. the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and all newer devices. The Google Pixel series offers an eSIM for all models from the Pixel 3 and newer, Samsung for the Galaxy S20, S21 and S22, among others. If you use another Android cell phone, you should first check the manufacturer's website to see whether the eSIM is supported. The Apple Watch and some Android smart watches, such as models from Samsung and Huawei, are also equipped with an eSIM. In addition, some tablets and laptops also contain the eSIM.

What does an eSIM bring me?

Smartphones with eSIM usually also have a slot for the classic SIM card, making it possible to use two telephone numbers at the same time. With iPhones, that's the only way: Apple doesn't offer a second SIM card slot, with the exception of some iPhones produced for the Chinese market. Anyone who frequently travels abroad can set up several mobile phone tariffs on their eSIM, between which they can switch if necessary. You can find out how to manage the so-called eSIM profiles on the smartphone manufacturer's website. Overall, the mobile phone providers promise more convenience when using the eSIM: They advertise that the eSIM is ready to use more quickly, since the necessary contract data can be requested online with a few clicks, while a plastic card has to be sent by post or bought in a shop.

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The biggest advantage of the eSIM, however, is that users are spared the nervous shivering when inserting the card. SIM cards have become smaller and smaller in recent years, the nano format is only around nine by twelve millimeters. The slots, which are designed as filigree drawers in many smartphones, are correspondingly tiny. A lot of tact is required if you don't want to demolish the heart of the phone when setting it up. When using an eSIM, less waste is also produced because the SIM chip is encased in plastic in classic cards.

What disadvantages does it have?

Permanently installed elements naturally have the disadvantage that they are not easily accessible. When changing devices, the classic SIM card can simply be removed from the old smartphone and inserted into the new one – the eSIM, on the other hand, has to be transferred to the new device by the provider. In addition, smartphones that are only equipped with an eSIM theoretically open up the possibility for manufacturers to sell the devices subject to conditions - for example with a pre-installed data package that binds to a mobile phone provider as a SIM or Net-Lock.

Due to the limited testing of the eSIM so far, the security situation is still unclear. As a permanently installed element that is more closely integrated with the operating system than an external card, the SIM chip could be more vulnerable. At least the SIM swapping scam becomes easier with the eSIM: An attacker uses false pretenses to apply for a new SIM card for an ongoing contract, intercepts it, takes over the telephone number and can then hijack the other person's online accounts or intercept one-time passwords. If the SIM data is provided online, it is theoretically sufficient to steal the password for the online customer account.

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