I already have one of the old style physical SIMs. What do I do ?
There’s nothing to worry about. Carry on as normal. You will have to upgrade to a new phone with an eSIM to get to the point where you have to worry about taking a new eSIM. In the meantime, you can still order physical SIMs online and put them in your phone
Are there any other names for eSIMs ?
Other names for the ‘eSIM’ include ‘soft SIM’, ‘Apple SIM’ and ‘Virtual SIM’. They’re not all exactly the same thing from a technical standpoint.
- The eSIM is an embedded version of the hardware SIM you’re used to. The eSIM is was included in the 2017 Apple Watch.
- An Apple SIM is a hybrid solution used in the past by Apple which we may not see again.
- A soft SIM (or virtual SIM) is an entirely software based alternative to the physical hardware SIM. This sort of solution is probably a while away.
This is such new technology that it’s going to take a while for people to figure out what they want to call it.
I have a hardware SIM. Can I still use my phone company’s self service app ?
You can use the self service app from your phone company to track your usage and it will still recommend the right plan for you. You just won’t be able to order the SIM there and then using the eSIM technology. You will have to provide your details for delivery and wait for the SIM to arrive. It’s when that happens that you realise how inefficient the old system was.
How can I compare eSIM plans ?
Comparing eSIM plans involves two key steps. We cover them both in more detail in this article. First, measure your usage. You need to count the number of minutes you talk in calls you made ( note, only calls you made, you’re never charged for the calls you received. ) You also need to know the number of SMSs you used and data you got through.
It’s helpful to know what a billing cycle is and when yours started.
Will Apple become a phone company with the eSIM announcement ?
Apple are amazingly good when it comes to strategic decisions. Alongside phone leasing, the release of the eSIM almost resembles something not far from a ‘pincer movement’. Telcos in Australia are having their market sovereignty infringed upon from both sides Not that all of them appear to realize this. The tier 1 telcos, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone are still watching the obvious ( the annual release of the iPhone 7 ) rather than the less obvious – the release of the eSIM and Apple leasing scheme.
It is hard to imagine the phone companies thinking 2 steps ahead. What else do Apple have planned ?
If Apple launched a network reseller ( also known as an MVNO ) themselves, they could sell phone plans as well as iPhones. The phone companies are likely to not like that very much.
Apple did the same lunch eating with many laptop manufacturers with the release of their iPad. Additionally, Google have started playing with being a phone company with their Project Fi.
For Apple, who like to own the entire experience their customers have, becoming a small phone company would complete the missing link in the value chain. So, yes. There is a possibility that Apple will become a phone company.
Why did we have hardware SIMs in the first place ?
Looking back, that’s a good question. The intention of the phone companies was to provide you a secure way to associate yourself with their network and, importantly, their billing system. They had to charge you of course, for the network services you were using. The solution they came up with was the physical SIM. However, as we’ve seen, moving everything to the eSIM or ‘Virtual SIM’ has improved people’s ability to connect to new plans from new providers.
Are eSIMs prepad or postpaid ?
You can buy either a prepaid or postpaid SIM only plan using eSIM technology. We compare prepaid vs month to month vs on account plans in this article.
- It’s easier than ever to swap phone companies.
- Apple have led the to move to eSIMs.
- Soon every SIM will be an eSIM.
- eSIMs are embedded SIMs.
- There is no physical SIM to slow things down.
- There’s nothing bad about the eSIM
- They has multiple names : e.g. SoftSIM
- It will take a while for everyone to upgrade.
- Only some (new) phones will be shipped with eSIMs.
60 second overview – what the eSIM means to you
- The eSIM launched back in 2016 in Australia, with mostly wearables like the Apple Watch supporting the technology.
- eSIMs are ‘electronic’ or ’embedded’ SIMs.
- They will make it much easier to swap phone company.
- With Apple launching iPhones with eSIM technology since 2018, the eSIM concept began to expand to smartphones.
- Samsung, Google, and other manufacturers now have smartphones with eSIM support as well.
- Switching telcos or plans with an eSIM smartphone is as simple as scanning a QR code.
- This also adds the option of having a second phone number.
- We explain all of this in more detail below.
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The concept of the eSIM started the better part of a decade ago. The idea was first brought to market with the Apple iPad SIM in 2 territories, the UK and USA, last year. Never one to be left far behind Apple, Samsung also released a watch which used the technology, at around the same time. It seems clear now, looking back, that these early releases were a way of ironing bugs in eSIM processes and procedures, out before the more significant release of an Apple device which uses the same sort of eSIM facility.
First announced in the Financial Times in 2015, the move to eSIMs is simply the next step in a long journey. Phone manufacturers have been driving towards ever smaller SIMs as long as phones have been phones. It won’t be a surprise to you that electronic hardware is shrinking. In some ways, the eSIM is simply a part of that miniaturization.
The reality is, that these SIM form factor changes, simply reflect changing customer behaviour. Since the launch of mobile phone companies, most people picked up a phone under contract from companies like Vodafone, and Telstra. They wanted to avoid the upfront cost of their new phone. In some cases, they were oblivious to the cost of that phone, which often ran to hundreds of dollars.
Things have changed recently. For the last three or four years, phone users have been buying their own phone outright and adding a SIM Only plan. The move to SIM Only ( postpaid plans with no contract or phone ) quickly made ‘no contract’ plans the majority of the market.
The change to the eSIM is coming together with another significant step forward in the phone market. eSIMs are being launched alongside a swathe of new phone leasing schemes which have been introduced at the same time.
Make no mistake about it, this ( the move to phones and people using electronic SIMs ) is a huge change for the telco industry. The ramifications of the conjunction of these things, are going to be enormous.
For example, it is far more likely that people are going to be buying their phone from Apple or Samsung from now on. Where previously they had bought a phone under contract from Vodafone, Telstra, or another phone company, they no longer will. It’s going to be easier to move phone companies with eSIM technology. You’ll get a better deal and change plans more frequently. We are going to have to unlearn much of what we have learned about buying phones and plans.
Here’s the insider’s guide to the new world.
When you sign up to a phone company, they associate you with the phone you have. They can do this and match you to their network / billing system using the new eSIM.
eSIMs are virtual SIMs. They are not a physical component of your phone in the same way that the old hardware SIMs used to be. You might like to think of the new eSIM as being like your Australian Citizenship ( if you have that. ) You don’t have a certificate to say you are an Australian. You may not even have a passport. However, since you are known by the government as an Australian, you are afforded the privileges of being an Aussie.
Similarly, with an eSIM, when you sign up to a phone company, they will associate you with the phone you have and the plan you’re on. This process step allows them match you with their network and billing system. The hardware SIM that we used for years was simply one way of doing precisely the same thing. That process has been made easier with the eSIM. The same links are made between you and the phone company, but, no hardware SIM is required or involved.
Now, instead of ordering a SIM online, having it delivered to you and activating it online, people will use an eSIM which is built in to their phone when they get it. The sign up process for new users on each phone network is done through your handset.
Australian phone companies tend to get kicked along in the world of disruptive innovation, rather than driving change themselves.
Apple is the world’s most expensive brand. They are known for technology and innovation. They and Samsung, who enjoy a similar reputation, are the brains behind the change to the eSIM.
Unfortunately, Australian phone companies tend to get kicked along in the world of disruptive innovation, rather than driving change themselves. What that means is that many of the same delays you used to experience with the older SIMs are still in place. And in fact, some of the process hasn’t changed at all. You’ll still port ( move your number ) for example as you always did. The process does not function on the weekends and, in rare cases can take days to complete.
It was never actually that hard to move phone companies. The biggest obstacles to people moving were the fact that many took out contracts with their phone companies to get the ‘free’ phone, and, that people were too lazy or scared to shop around. The eSIM has removed some of the friction in the process. However, users will still need to perform a small amount of research here and there to ensure they are getting the best deal. ( See below for details of how to do that. )
Apple’s leasing program allows people like you and me to buy our phones direct from Apple now.
In the sense that Apple’s eSIM is being released to market in Australia at the same time as the new Apple leasing scheme, the two events are related, yes. They’re different things though. Apple’s leasing program allows people like you and me to buy our phones direct from Apple now.
Previously, Apple would sell phones to the phone companies. The phone companies would tie them up as part of a contracted deal for customers. Typical contracts ran for 2 years. During that time, you would be tied to a phone plan rate. Even if the phone companies increased, for example, the data allowance in their plans, those under contract with them would not benefit.
Now, Apple ( and Samsung and, potentially others ) will be leasing their phones direct to customers. You’ll buy your iPhone from Apple and pay a monthly fee to them. In the US, where the program has been going for a while, users also pay a monthly fee for AppleCare on their phone.
When the contract for the hardware is direct with Apple ( or Samsung etc. ), things become fairer on the SIM front. You won’t be tied in to contracts any more. If you want to change phone companies, you can. You just take your phone, leased from Apple, with you and use the new eSIM capability to sign up to a new plan.
Neither Apple nor Samsung’s leasing schemes operate in Australia at the moment, although they may be brought here in the future. Moose Mobile are one local (Australian) provider who do offer a leasing scheme.
The eSIM has been in Australia since 2016, but we’re yet to see its full potential. Part of the reason for this is that only the three major telcos – Telstra, Optus, and TPG Telecom (Vodafone) – currently support eSIM technology. That means if you have a phone plan with an MVNO, then you won’t be able t take advantage of your device’s eSIM capabilities. The ACCC has expressed concern about this, so there’s a good chance that MVNOs might soon get access to eSIM technology.
Also, buying your eSIM device from one of Australia’s major telcos will likely result in you owning a locked device. As a result, even though you’ll be able to use the eSIM, you will only be able to switch plans within that same telco you purchased the device from. To switch telcos, you’d have to unlock the device, which might be a headache.
- Apple began rolling out iPhones with eSIM capabilities back in 2018, so if you have a 2018 iPhone, iPhone 11, or are planning on getting an iPhone 12, then your device is eSIM capable.
- A range of Samsung smartphones have eSIM capabilities as well, including all Galaxy Note 20 models and Galaxy S20 models.
- You’ll also find eSIM support in other smartphones such as the Huawei P40 and P40 Pro, and Google Pixel 4, 4a, and 5 (3 and 3XL have limited eSIM support).
There are no specific plans for eSIM phones. Instead, you can use your eSIM to switch to any plan at all, as long as the telco has eSIM support (currently only Telstra, Optus, and TPG Telecom). And remember, if your eSIM phone was purchased from the telco, it is likely locked to that telco and can’t switch to a plan from another telco unless you unlock the device.
How switching plans or telcos works with the eSIM
Research and compare the best phone plans out there and find what you’re interested in.
To activate the phone plan via your smartphone’s eSIM, you’ll either have to:
- Use your phone’s camera to scan a QR code provided by your telco via email, their website, or post, or
- You might have to enter an activation code into your device.
If you are scanning a QR code that is delivered via email or the telco’s website, you will have to open the email or website on a separate device so you can scan it with your phone’s camera.
General steps for activating your eSIM on an iPhone or Android smartphone:
- On your iPhone, go to Settings > Mobile > Add Mobile Plan > then scan the QR code with your phone’s camera and follow the prompts.
- On your Android smartphone, go to Settings > Network & Internet > Add Mobile Network > then scan the QR code with your phone’s camera and follow the prompts.
These steps vary from device to device. If you’re finding it difficult to switch with your eSIM, give your telco a call.
Many of the things we consider to be fundamental to the relationship we have with our phone companies, are going to change.
eSIMs are going to mean a marked difference to the way we buy phones. Many of the things we consider to be fundamental to the relationship we have with our phone companies, are going to change. eSIMs are likely to create :
- More choice :
You will have available to you a new phone provider, at the click of an on screen button, at almost any time. It’ll be easier than ever to move across to another phone company directly from where you sit.
- More options :
You are likely to have a number of different ways to compare and buy SIM plans. There will be comparison sites like this one, which offer details of the eSIM plans you need to compare. There will be apps which help you decide the right plan.
- More decisions :
You are going to have to make more regular decisions about the right kind of plan for you. This is the down side of the increased range you will be offered.
- Less travelling :
Because the way you interact with your phone company is going to change, you are likely to do a lot less travelling / sitting around. Where you previously had to buy online and wait for 2 days to have your physical SIM delivered to you, you will now be able to download the contents of your SIM from whichever phone company you want to.
- Better value :
Exposure to better providers, especially smaller phone companies which offer better deals is going to make the market far more competitive.
- More phone numbers or more phone plans on the same device :
With an eSIM smartphone, you can have two or more phone numbers and/or phone plans. Just use the physical SIM card slot for one phone number or plan, and the eSIM for your second number or plan. That way, you can have separate work and home phone numbers, for instance, on the same device.
- Share phone numbers :
With eSIM solutions share the same phone number across devices. For instance, if you have an eSIM-capable wearable device, you can share your phone’s eSIM plan/number to make use of that device. This means you don’t have to buy a separate plan for the other device – just share the phone number.
Whichever method you decide to subscribe to, you will need to know your service usage statistics.
eSIM plans are currently only offered by the major telcos. As a result, there really isn’t much competition. However, the ACCC has expressed concern over MVNOs’ lack of access to eSIM technology. So eventually, you can expect to see MVNO eSIM offers. But for now, the only eSIM plans in the country are from Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone ( now TPG Telecom ).
Comparing eSIM plans involves the same process as was required before. You ( and every other phone user ) is going to have to know some basic answers if you want a better deal. Whichever method you decide to subscribe to, you will need to know your service usage statistics.
To understand what your plan entitles you to, record the key features. Try and establish + record the number of minutes talk time, SMS and amount of data your plan provides. Ideally, before changing phone plans using your eSIM, you will compare your entitlements to what you used. Your goal is to buy a plan that gives you just what you need, no more. Specifically, try and record:
- The number of minutes you need :
Many but not all Australian phone plans have unlimited calls and SMSs included. Those plans which do have unlimited minutes and SMS included usually cost around $30. Cheap phone plans come in under the $30 price point and mostly don’t include unlimited SMS and minutes of talk time. There is no point in paying for unlimited minutes you don’t need and will never use.
- The number of SMS you need :
Harder to count and cheaper than phone calls, it’s still a good idea to know how many you use. SMSs are increasingly but not universally provided in all you can eat plan allocations.
- How much data you need :
By far the most significant price plan inclusion these days, data is the key thing to keep an eye on. Use the settings to establish how much you’ve used or download an app.
- Do you need 4G ? :
There is a difference between the speeds that your device can download data at. 4G is superfast data and is becoming the defacto standard. Any reasonable phone you’ve bought in the last 2 -5 years will be enabled with 4G. Older phones, including a lot of feature phones are 3G.
Once you have this information, you have a number of options available to you. If our Solution Finder doesn’t appeal, you can:
- Let us compare eSIMs for you :
Companies like WhatPhone ( telco comparison sites ) offer information and price plan comparisons on iPhone plans, prepaid plans and SIM Only plans of any description.
- Use the Apple or Samsung eSIM settings page to pick a plan :
There are basic ways to connect to a new phone plan using the settings in your eSIM enabled phone.
- Walk in : Retails stores can still connect you to a plan if you’d like to talk to a human as you did before. They’re just an unnecessary part of the equation.
Note : You will want to change phone providers at the end of your blling cycle or you will waste a ( potentially large ) proportion of your committed spend. Mark the date that you get charged for your monthly service and check with your phone company to confirm it is the start of your billing cycle. If you are using a prepaid service, determine the date you activated it and the ‘recharge window’ ( prepaid credit validity period ) for your service. In either case, wait until the end of your billing cycle to change so you’re not wasting your money.
Note : What’s important, when you’re choosing an eSIM plan ( or any SIM plan for that matter ) is not just your current usage behaviour. It’s important to understand how your usage is changing over time ( trending.)
There are many reasons for the arrival of the eSIM. Primary among them is the acknowledgement of just how important to them, peoples’ phones are.
There are many reasons for the arrival of the eSIM. Primary among them is the acknowledgement of just how important to them, peoples’ phones are. That importance provides a desire to increase use their phone and manage it on their own terms. Specifically, Australia has seen :
1. More smartphones :
At the time of writing, recent statistics showed that 73% of Australians have smartphones. Smartphone availability provides mobile access to the Internet. That enables more self service functionality on the phone. That means complicated operations such as the selection of a phone provider and plan are relatively easy on a phone where previously they would not have been possible at all.
2. Smartphones being upgraded ‘regularly’ :
Most people upgrade their phone once every couple of years. Many upgrade more regularly. The willingness to pay large amounts of money relatively frequently for a new phone opens the market up to relatively fast migration to new technology. When Apple roll out a new phone with no physical SIM in it, the new technology saturates the market quickly. Because people upgrade and the life of phone products is so small ( relative for example to other purchases like a laptop or car ) changes like the eSIM propagate quickly.
3. More people buying their own phone, outright :
59% of people buy their phone outright last year. And that was before the Apple leasing program came to Australia. The move away from buying phones under contract from the phone companies has been supported by the likes of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. To them, buying phones was always a distraction. The other side of the equation, however, potentially losing the majority of their control over their own customers is surely of greater concern.
4. A rise in the number, quality and popularity of smaller phone companies :
Smaller phone companies make up 20% of the market and that’s growing quickly. They offer specific deals that appeal to groups of users. ( Eg. Boost focus on the Youth Segment, Amaysim focus largely on unlimited deals ). These companies also service their customers well. Users that have embraced the change to a smaller phone company have loved it. An incredible 96% of Amaysim customers on their unlimited plans would recommend the company to their friends. Compare that to the customer satisfaction levels of the bigger phone companies.
5. In the SIM only market, smaller companies make up 40% :
Their success in targeting, high customer satisfaction levels and the general, national move to SIM Only contracts means that smaller phone companies stand to hold a much larger market share when the eSIM and the leasing programs we’ve described come to market.
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Summing up the changes associated with the eSIM
There will be a significant change in the worldwide market for phones when these ideas reach Australian shores.
As we’ve seen, the arrival of the eSIM is a significant development. When the release of the eSIM is linked to the equivalently impactful Apple and Samsung phone leasing scheme, (and Australian equivalents) the ramifications are even more far reaching.
The eSIM and the Apple Leasing Scheme will force us to fundamentally reconsider our approach to choice in the market for phones and our relationships with our phone companies.
The App we’ve produced to measure your usage and tell you the best plan, is designed to recognize the challenges that are brought to life by these changes. Our goal is to overrun the complexities and provide a reliable answer to you on the best value plan, based on your real needs. We also want to make it as easy as possible for you to change provider from the phone you’re on.
There’s no need for panic, however. There is always a level of inertia involved in the rollout of new ideas. Innovation can be slowed down as a result of existing ideas being ingrained in the culture of a country. Culture usually means ‘the way things are done around here’ and the way things are done in Australia, when it comes to SIMs, are that right now, they are purchased from the shop or online. Changing how people approach that is going to take some time.
Currently, only Australia’s three major telcos offer eSIM plans. However, with the ACCC expressing its concern over that, MVNOs will eventually be given access to the technology. THis will mean more competition, leading to more valuable eSIM plans for consumers.
The phone companies now have to try to keep a grip on their customers in a world which contains eSIMs. When phones can be bought directly from Apple / Samsung and customers can move their phone company simply by picking an item on a menu on their phone, the phone companies are going to have to fight hard to stay relevant and important to their customers. They turned in to the dumb pipe they always worried they would.
- PWC discuss the impact of the eSIM in erudite terms, as always.
- There are a number of factors combining around eSIMs which will speed their impact.