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What is an eSIM and how does it work?

The iPhone 14 is eSIM only in the United States, but what does that mean?

sim card with carries in the background
Image: KnowTechie

If you own a cell phone, then you may know what a SIM card is. It’s the small card that holds your carrier information. Now, some phones are using a new technology called eSIM.

An eSIM is an alternative method that some phones use to connect with carriers. It stands for “embedded subscriber identity module,” and is different from the physical SIM cards that many phones use.

Nowadays, many of the more popular phones on the market give people the option of using an eSIM or a SIM card for their phones. In some cases, you can even use both.

However, that may change in the future. In fact, it has already begun to do so. The iPhone 14 came out recently, and Apple confirmed that it will only use eSIMs for customers in the United States. So what’s the difference?

SIM cards are physical, eSIMs are digital

iphone with sim card
Image: Unsplash

There’s one fundamental difference between eSIMs and SIM cards, and it’s pretty significant. A SIM card is a physical card, similar in size to a microSD card, that slides into a dedicated slot on your phone.

It holds all your carrier information and can be transferred from one phone to another. An eSIM, on the other hand, is entirely digital. It’s a small piece of software stored in your phone.

It holds the same information as a physical SIM card, like your phone number, account information, and more info from your carrier.

sim card on purple background
Image: KnowTechie

An eSIM is safer than a SIM card. With an eSIM, there’s no way for someone to take your carrier information, while a SIM card can technically be stolen from your phone.

Many phones even offer dual-SIM capabilities. You can have two different carrier plans with different phone numbers stored on the same device.

One way to do this is by adding a carrier via eSIM while you have another plan on your physical SIM card.

Alternatively, you can store multiple carriers’ information on different eSIMs stored in your phone. Then, you can switch between the ones you want to use.

This is a good option for people who travel internationally, as it gives you more options depending on where you are. So switching between two SIM configurations can be pretty helpful.

How to set up an eSIM

esim settings galaxy s20
Image: KnowTechie

For most users, you won’t have to worry about setting up an eSIM. When you buy your phone, the retailer will likely be the one to set up your eSIM for you. Just give them your carrier information, and they’ll handle the process.

Sometimes, however, you might need to set up your own eSIM. For example, if you order a phone online, you might have to set up your phone on your own.

You can always take it to a retailer, but you have the option to set it up yourself as well.

When you receive your phone, you’ll be able to turn it on and set it up without an eSIM. Then, just head to the phone’s settings and find the SIM options.

iphone cellular menu
Image: KnowTechie

On iPhones, you can find the eSIM option in the Cellular section of the settings app. Android users can open settings and search “SIM” to find the SIM manager.

From here, you can add an eSIM to your device. You’ll want to ensure you have WiFi access at this point. Just choose your carrier from the list and follow the steps to set up your eSIM.

Depending on your phone and carrier, you might have the option to scan a QR code to set up your phone. If not, the carrier you choose when buying your phone will have instructions for how to set up eSIM if needed.

SIM cards may soon be a thing of the past

apple iphone 6 in-hand
SIM cards may go extinct, much like this older iPhone (Image: Unsplash)

So that’s the difference between SIM cards and eSIM. eSIM is the more dynamic approach, storing all of your cellular carrier information on the phone instead of a physical card.

With eSIM, you can have multiple carrier options installed on the same phone at once. Then all you need to do is head to the settings and switch between carriers.

Most phones today still have the option for SIM cards. However, some are already abandoning physical SIM cards entirely in favor of eSIM, and there will likely be many to follow suit in the future.

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Contributing writer with a passion for gaming and tech. Probably getting wrecked by some kids in Rocket League.

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