What is eSIM Technology? : The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Oct 10, 2023

The acronym “SIM” in ‘SIM card’ stands for ‘subscriber identity module.’ These minuscule plastic chips store essential data for your phone; including your phone number, contacts, and messages. But now, the industry is moving away from the physical chip and phone manufacturers are equipping their devices with eSIM technology.

Some manufacturers no longer offer a physical SIM card at all anymore. We’re looking at you, iPhone. If you want old school, no worries, the new Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro still supports a SIM card as do many Samsung models. In fact, OnePlus current flagship phone model has dual SIM ports. But I digress.

What is eSIM technology?

An eSIM, short for ’embedded SIM,’ eliminates the necessity for a physical SIM card. Essentially, it is an electronic SIM card that is provisioned by your carrier and stored securely in your phone during the sign up process with your wireless provider. Using eSIM technology offers both advantages and limitations, as we see below:

Graphic of eSIM technologyThe Good – Benefits of Using eSIM:

Streamlined Network Switching: With an eSIM, it becomes hassle-free to change between mobile networks. You no longer need to wait for a physical SIM card to arrive and then manually insert it. You simply switch networks with a phone call or online request.

  • Convenient Temporary Network Changes: An eSIM can store one or more virtual SIM cards simultaneously, depending on the device. Eliminate the need to physically swap SIM cards! This flexibility allows you to swiftly switch between different networks when you encounter signal issues or while traveling.  Cost-Efficient Traveling: Don’t incur high roaming charges from your home network while abroad, use a local mobile network via eSIM which can be more cost-effective.
  • Multiple SIMs, Single Device: An eSIM enables you to have multiple phone numbers on a single device. This works well for managing personal and business contacts and not need to carry two distinct phones. The Bad – Drawbacks of Using eSIM:
  • Limited Device Switching: eSIM technology poses a challenge when it comes to switching devices quickly. Unlike physical SIM cards that can be easily transferred to another device with eSIM the carrier must authorize download. Cloud-based data storage is used to transfer contacts and information between phones, the process is not as straightforward as swapping SIM cards.
  • Requires Internet Connection: The establishment of an eSIM requires an Internet or phone connection. A physical SIM card only requires insertion into the phone to get you online.
  • So Many Numbers: The real difficulty with eSIMs is keeping track of the numbers and using the correct phone number for the correct application.

The Ugly – Potential Criminal Usage of eSIMs:

  • Difficult to Track and Identify Users: As eSIMs can be programmed remotely and do not require a physical card, it becomes challenging for law enforcement agencies to trace the identity and location of a device. Criminals engaged in activities like fraud, cybercrime, or even terrorism can use this anonymity for potential abuse as it provides a level of operational security that traditional SIM cards do not.
  • Purchase and Activation of eSIMs Online with Minimal Verification: This poses a risk for identity theft and fraud and allows criminals an opportunity to exploit a lax process. They are able to obtain eSIM profiles under false identities, enabling them to commit various types of crimes, from financial fraud to online harassment, while staying untraceable.

To mitigate these drawbacks and the potential for criminality associated with eSIMs, it is essential for authorities and technology providers to implement rigorous security measures. They must also improve user verification processes and enhance the monitoring and tracking capabilities of eSIM-enabled devices.

While there are some drawbacks to eSIM technology with unintended and unauthorized usages, their benefits far outweigh the negatives. There were negatives and possibilities for criminality with physical SIM cards as well. The efficiency and convenience of eSIMs have them here to stay, either as a substitute for traditional SIM cards or as an additional SIM option.