Before setting off overseas, there are always expenses that need to be considered; accommodation, food and transport, for example. Another vital consideration is how you will stay in contact with people back home. Until recently, the solutions have been unnecessarily complicated and often expensive.
You might try to buy a SIM card in the country you go to, hoping that it’s compatible with your phone. You could try to rely on VoIP services like Skype, assuming Wi-Fi is accessible in all your locations. However, the most simple (and often the most expensive) is to activate data roaming with your current carrier.
With Apple’s announcement of an innovative eSIM on the way, another option will soon become available to travellers that is likely to be significantly cheaper and drastically more convenient. So what is the eSIM, and how will it reduce your roaming costs?
How Does International Roaming Work?
International roaming allows you to use your SIM card and device, complete with your usual phone number, while overseas. This works because your phone company has an agreement with a carrier in your destination country. You use the overseas carrier for calls, SMS, MMS and data, and they send the bill to your usual Australian provider, who forward the costs on to you. You pay extra to be able to use the foreign carrier via your normal SIM.
Phone companies offer different types of roaming. Some carriers charge a daily fee, which allows you to access your usual plan as you would at home. Others have set rates for other countries that you pay on top of your usual phone plan. Data roaming is another consideration – data is often considerably more expensive to access when overseas. Some companies offer data roaming packages separately.
The cost of international roaming varies widely between different companies. While the plans may seem fairly straight-forward, it is quite easy to get caught out once overseas. Often people get distracted and forget to check their usage, underestimate how long their calls last for, or get charged for calls made to their phone or voicemail. Many travellers have been horrified to find a huge bill waiting because they forgot to disable their mobile data. These expenses often come on top of the daily international roaming fee.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM refers to an embedded SIM that will come pre-installed in selected devices. Because the eSIM functionality is already part of the phone’s hardware, it will eliminate the need for a physical, removable SIM card.
SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module, and the current SIM cards are a way for the phone carrier to recognise a user within their system. If you change providers, you will need to obtain a new SIM card so you can be identified by your new company.
In the foreseeable future, each telecommunications company will use the same eSIM technology that comes with their customers’ devices. The customer’s information will be encrypted and installed on the eSIM, and accessed by a carrier key that allows the telecommunications company to recognise them.
With this technology, users will be able to easily switch carriers without needing a physical SIM. The eSIM will also be able to handle multiple carriers at once on the same device. Travellers will be able to easily select short-term plans from their region of choice to use while overseas, while still staying connected to their primary plan.
How will the eSIM Benefit Travellers?
When the technology becomes widely available, travellers will receive a number of benefits from using a device with an eSIM:
- No need to track down or change SIM cards when travelling
- No roaming charges or international rates – pay what the locals pay
- Generally a more competitive market for phone carriers
- Easily search and compare short term phone plans before leaving
- Your phone will be compatible with the overseas network
Reducing Roaming Costs
Of course, the eSIM has yet to take off, and the predicted market competition resulting in low prices for eSIM phone plans does not yet exist. While a few eSIMs are currently available, like in a very few Samsung devices, they mostly focus on machine-to-machine communication.
Technology introduced by a market leader like Apple, with its access to millions of consumers, has the ability to completely revolutionise the way we use SIM cards in general. The applications for travel are just as impressive. Some experts are even predicting that international roaming could be almost non-existent within the next 3-5 years, as eSIMs remove the need for additional costs.
No matter how long it takes for the technology and market participation to become established, there is little doubt that some of the happiest customers for the new eSIM are likely to be international travellers.