Apple is looking to make eSIM popular, at least in the US. It launched its three new iPhones with eSIM support and regular SIM support, to that they can work as dual-SIM smartphones. This is something that Google has been doing with its Pixel smartphones for the past few years, though the iPhone is arguably way more popular than the Pixel. Typically, eSIM has only worked for Project Fi in the US, but the US carriers will be bringing support, just not right away. According to a report out of MacRumors, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are delaying eSIM support until later this year. Essentially, the carriers are waiting to rollout support until it they are confident that it will work well and not have any issues for customers.
Making sure that eSIM is perfect and that customers won’t have any issues with it, is a pretty big deal. Seeing as it could affect the customers phone calls, texts and data all at the same time. And while eSIM is not really a new technology, it is for the US carriers. Which makes it pretty important to make sure it is done right. Otherwise, customers could lose all connections on their smartphone, which would not be a good look for these carriers. None of the US carriers are stating when they will be releasing eSIM support, other than saying “later this year” which is actually a pretty small window of time. Considering it is already November, that gives them less than two months to roll out support. It would not be surprising at all if eSIM support is delayed even further into 2019. And considering only a handful of smartphones have eSIM support right now, it wouldn’t effect many people either.
Background: Apple has actually been using eSIM in its iPads for quite a few years. This is what allows users to buy an LTE-enabled iPad from Apple and choose whichever carrier they want. eSIM is essentially a digital SIM card that lives inside your smartphone. Instead of needing to switch out your SIM card, you would just download the app for your carrier and sign into your account, and you’re good to go. That’s just how easy it is supposed to be, to work. In fact, with Project Fi, that is how easy it works on a Pixel smartphone. Just download the Project Fi app – which is already pre-installed on most Pixel phones – and sign into your account. Project Fi will then go ahead and activate your account and you’re all set. You don’t even need to have a SIM card in that slot. This is going to help get rid of SIM card slots altogether on smartphones. Though that likely won’t happen for another decade or so, as many are still going to want to have that SIM card slot for when they travel to other countries that may not use eSIM technology just yet.
With carriers adding wearables to their portfolio that also work on their phone number, like the Galaxy Watch from Samsung, eSIM is going to become more and more popular. As it is going to allow you to get phone calls on other devices like your smartwatch, even when you leave your smartphone at home, which is a good thing here. Seeing as more and more people are wanting to leave their phones at home more often then taking it with them. eSIM is a pretty cool technology, but as with most technologies, it is going to take some to perfect how well it works. And that is what the US carriers are working on right now.
Impact: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are working on eSIM, with Apple though. Which means that it will likely launch on the iPhone only, at first. That’s going to suck for Android users, and it will likely remain that way until more Android smartphones add eSIM support. Currently, only Google is using eSIM on its Pixel smartphones. Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC and others are not using eSIM, rather just regular old physical SIM cards for connecting to networks. Which could be a problem for adoption in the coming years. Though it should work nearly the same on iPhone as it does on Android, just a few minor changes that may need to be made in the backend by the carriers supporting it.
As is always the case with new technologies, though, once Apple starts supporting it on the iPhone or even the iPad, it will become a much more widely adopted technology. This was the case with wireless charging when Apple brought wireless charging to the iPhones last year, afterwards everyone started making wireless charging products to keep your phone charged up. And that even forced Google to bring back wireless charging on the Pixel (it was previously available on the Nexus smartphones, until the Nexus 6) this year. And that is likely how things will shape up with eSIM for the iPhone, though it might take a couple of generations to have that effect on the market. Which is fine, seeing as eSIM is still fairly new, and it won’t be available in all countries, at least not at first. Apple is not working with Sprint on eSIM, but it has said that it is going to enable eSIM support in the near future. The beauty about eSIM is that when you lose your smartphone, you won’t need to worry about ordering a new SIM card from your carrier and paying $20 for something that should really be free. Instead, just login to your carrier through your phone and you’ll be good to go. It’s a much better idea than having to deal with these SIM cards, and carrier retail stores will also appreciate not having to keep these SIM cards stocked in their stores. Even though they don’t take up much room in their stores, since they are pretty small. eSIM will be great when it is fully implemented properly, but for now, it’s going to be a tough road for a lot of people that are looking to use eSIM, as is the case with any new technology.