According to reports, Apple is launching its upcoming iPhones without any physical SIM card slot. The rumor first came from a Brazilian site, Blog Do iPhone, claiming that iPhone 15 Pro models set to launch in the upcoming year may not have a physical SIM slot (1). Another report from MacRumors alleged that Apple had advised major telecom carriers in the United States to be prepared for the launch of eSIM-only smartphones by the end of September 2022 (2).
Also, it is possible that Apple may remove the physical slot starting with iPhone 14 models, sooner than originally rumored iPhone 15 models (3). There are also reports about the possibility of new iPhones supporting two eSIM cards, ensuring dual SIM functionality of smartphones.
We all understand the importance of SIM cards in our phones. But what would happen if we get rid of them for good? What are eSIMs? What would it mean for your new iPhone or any other smart device? Here’s everything you need to know.
Our Good Old SIM Cards
The humble physical SIM cards have survived for quite a while. However, today, most premium phones come with embedded SIMs or eSIMS to identify your smartphone to carriers. Our tried and true SIM cards are still widely used, but it is becoming more common to find new phones coming with an eSIM instead of inserting a physical SIM card (4).
SIM, Subscriber Identity Module sits in a special tray, commonly known as SIM slot – also among the top used hardware features that slide into our phones like a drawer.
Telecom carriers typically supply it and are programmed with our phones’ unique serial number, IMEI, authentication key, etc. In an era without WiFi or eSIM, our phones couldn’t make any standard phone calls outside dialing emergency numbers across a wireless network.
It happens because our SIM cards are responsible for holding all the information necessary to connect us to a cellular network. It includes the network we have subscribed to, our phone number, and what data we can use, 3G, 4G, or 5G. If we remove the SIM card, we remove the information our phones need to connect with any network.
Today’s most common SIM cards are very small, have a notch on one corner, and have a face-down side with gold circuits. They are read by the card reader embedded on our smartphones’ motherboards. Since they are removable, we can remove them from one device and insert them into another. It allowed us to upgrade our phones outside our tele carriers (5).
However, one of the major disadvantages of a physical SIM card is that you can only use a specific carrier’s SIM card. We will have to change our SIM if we wish to change our carrier or port our number. However, unless our phones are locked, that won’t be the case with eSIMs.
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Understanding an eSIM
As you may have already guessed, an eSIM can’t be removed from our phones. In an eSIM-enabled phone, we don’t need any physical SIM card to use the internet or make a phone call. It is a programmable SIM card that’s already soldered on our phones’ motherboards.
Meaning it will do everything our physical SIM cards can do. The only difference is we cannot remove it physically unless we decide to break open our phones and desolder the chip.
Now, some of you think it is problematic. For instance, if you are traveling abroad and wish to swap to a local carrier while keeping your phone.
However, eSIM technology makes switching carriers easier than ever. Rather than waiting for a new SIM card or visiting our nearest store to have a new one, eSIM allows us to make a switch right on our phones (6).
There are settings on eSIM that allows us to switch between carriers and lines, which makes it easier to manage our accounts. Moreover, if you prefer dual-SIMs, eSIM also offers multiple accounts, and switching between them is super easy. How convenient!
As of now, all major iPhone models starting from the iPhone X series are compatible with eSIM; if you use Google phones, models like Pixel 3, 3A, 3A XL, and 4A are compatible with the technology. Several models of Samsung smartphones and Motorola (NextGen Razr and Razr) are compatible with eSIM technology. Regrettably, OnePlus phones don’t support eSIM technology as of now (Correct me here!).
Read the official Apple post here to know how you can use eSIM on your iPhone!
Since eSIM technology needs no physical tray for SIM cards taking up space, our devices can be smaller, thinner, larger battery, and so on. In addition, removing the SIM card slot can improve the water-resistance abilities of our smartphones.
For example, Apple Watch Series 5 and 6 already have eSIMs which allow Apple to keep the overall size down, a vital element for a wearable.
Physical SIM vs eSIM
Whether you have a smartphone, tablet, or any other smart device, eSIM offers a range of advantages over physical SIM cards (7).
- Smaller Size: The SIM card and sliding tray take unnecessary space, which is not the case with eSIMs.
- Reliability: Since eSIMs are soldered onto the motherboard, they are far less prone to any malfunction than physical SIM cards.
- Robust: Since there are no removable parts, there are no holes in the device. It helps make our phones visually appealing and offers further protection from moisture and dust.
- Convenience: With an eSIM, we no longer have to carry around or collect plastic rectangles or make an effort to remove them using a paperclip.
- Security: Our physical SIM cards can be stolen, handing out our accounts to the perpetrators. However, with an eSIM, identity swap is only possible with a password, a more secure option for our data.
There are cons with every pro too, and it is also true for eSIMs. For instance, when we transfer data from one phone to another, swapping a SIM card is faster and far simpler than uploading our profiles on the cloud and restoring it to a new device.
Another is limited compatibility since the technology is still new; we won’t find it on our older hardware. And there is another scenario in case you damage your phone; your module may be gone for good, unlike a physical SIM card that can survive and be taken out.
Yet, the benefits outweigh the limitations enough to make it worthwhile.
eSIM Technology has Use Cases Beyond Our Smartphones
When we think of SIM cards, the first thing that comes to our mind is smartphones. However, a range of applications with the eSIM technology broadens the horizons even further.
The most obvious candidates besides our smartphones are our tablets and laptops. These devices heavily rely on the web connectivity. In this regard, eSIM data plans are a welcome addition besides their WiFi capacities, especially for those who work remotely and live a nomad life!
And as the number of connecting devices continues to grow, it would become a technology for choice for major consumer gadgets which were impossible or impractical for traditional SIM.
It can include:
- Smart cars
- Portable Modems
- Home security devices
- IoT gadgets
- Fitness trackers
And as the adoption of eSIM technology goes, we anticipate even more innovative applications from transportation, smart tracking, smart agriculture, and more (8). Overall, eSIM technology has the potential to be a game-changer for IoTs (9, 10).
Soon, we may see eSIM become a universal standard, but major phones will continue to have a SIM tray until that happens.
Leaker @dylandkt (who has a respectable track record with Apple rumors), who informed MacRumors that Apple advised major US carriers to prepare for eSIM-only smartphone launches by September 2022, shared some legitimate documents outlining the timeline for the initiative. However, the document does not specify Apple or the iPhone.
As a part of the transition, we can expect several carriers to start offering eSIM that users will have to activate by turning on their devices, connecting to a WiFi network, and following instructions on-screen.
Considering the alleged September 2022 deadline and how most iPhones are compatible with eSIM, we may see new iPhone models without any physical SIM card slot. However, nothing is definitive as of now.
However, since eSIM service is unavailable in many countries, we may see Apple keeping SIM card slots for some markets.
Nonetheless, we can see rapid adoption of the eSIM technology, with more than 100 carriers offering eSIM service across the globe (11) and more planning to launch it this year, including three in the United Kingdom (12) and Vodafone in New Zealand (13).
We are positive the various functionalities of the eSIM technology will pave the way for removing SIM card slots in many countries (14).
Johny Ive, a former designer at Apple, had once envisioned the iPhone becoming a “single slab of glass (15),” The removal of physical SIM cards can be a step forward in that direction, offering us a seamless design and improved water resistance in the process.