January 30, 2022
A few weeks ago, I wanted to activate my iPad’s cellular service since I was going to be traveling. It already had a physical SIM card that I had installed when I first got it, so I figured it would just be a matter of reactivating that card. That was not possible. But what was possible was activating the tablet’s eSIM. With that, I did not have to go to a physical carrier store, nor wait for a physical SIM card to arrive in the mail and perhaps best of all, I didn’t have to search for a SIM card ejector tool and fiddle with tiny components. My network was activated within a matter of minutes.
An eSIM, or embedded-SIM, is a tiny SIM card that is, as its name implies, embedded in a device. eSIMs are a fraction of the size of the nano SIM cards we’ve grown accustomed to and measure a mere 2.2 x 2.8 mm while nano SIMs are relatively large at 12.3 x 8.8 mm. Other than the size benefit which allows manufacturers to place these chips in smaller and smaller devices, eSIMs allow consumers to have multiple networks associated with them, allowing users to potentially toggle between networks for the best service, or easily activate a new local network upon arriving in a foreign country. eSIMs are more readily available with newer phone models (see chart below) and are already supported by major carriers. Their usage is expected to continue growing as they are adopted for other connected devices.
Sources: Omdia; Somar Analysis
For consumers, the major benefits involve ease of use including:
- Easy digital activation without having to physically install a SIM card
- Having multiple phone numbers, such as for work and personal, on a single phone
- Switching to another network when there is poor coverage
- Ability to use a local network when traveling and avoiding high roaming fees
- No fear of losing or damaging a physical SIM card when switching networks
For manufacturers, eSIMs mean less space taken up in a device which could translate to usage in smaller devices and/or freeing up space for improved device functionality such as larger batteries or more camera lenses. As an example, eSIMs are what allow direct LTE network connection for smartwatches without needing Bluetooth and a smartphone.
Somar is monitoring the proliferation of eSIM devices as part of the larger trend of connected devices and the Internet of Things.