Is there a need to imagine what today’s world would look like without smart devices all around us, particularly smartphones? We shudder at that thought, but besides technological improvements, it’s the SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) that’s responsible for the key features. Just think about it – having your unique phone number, being able to call, text, or access the Internet wirelessly through 3G, 4G, or soon, 5G technology wouldn’t be possible without one. But how do you pick between multiple types such as Full-Size SIM, Mini-SIM, Micro-SIM, or Nano-SIM, and which one is the best? Here’s the answer.
What’s an Embedded-SIM card?
To be able to distinguish between them, first, we need to clarify what Embedded-SIM card is. As the name suggests, the card cannot be removed manually. In fact, you won’t need to handle a SIM Card anymore at all – it will already be soldered to the motherboard of your smartphone once you purchase it. A question comes to your mind – what would happen if you needed to switch operators? Well, the card was designed with that in mind – it can be wiped clean and reprogrammed using the so-called “Remote SIM Provisioning” wirelessly by the operator.
The difference between Embedded-SIM card and other types of SIM cards
Up until the late 2010s, the typical SIM Card consisted of 2 main parts. The first one was the electronic chip that provided all the actual functionality users sought. However, since it was manually inserted, it needed to be protected from touching nearby electronics on the motherboard. For that reason, a rim of insulating material, commonly PVC or plastic, needed to exist around the chip, to prevent a short circuit. It was the size of that rim that made a clear distinction between types of SIM cards. The biggest – Full-Size SIM, was the size of regular credit and is rarely in use.
Nano-SIM card, on the other hand, was still widespread and used by a majority of flagship and mid-range smartphones. Although very small, measuring at 12.3 mm x 8.8 mm x 0.67 mm or 0.48 in x 0.35 in x 0.026 in, it was predicted that it will slowly start going out of commission in the early 2020s. The reasons for that were many, mainly convenience, security, and production and delivery costs. The transition is also projected to go smoothly since the surface mount format (SMT) has the same electrical interface as the other types.
Since there’s no rim of insulation around it, the embedded-SIM is exactly the size of the chip that makes it all “tick”. To be precise, it measures 6 mm x 5 mm x <1 mm or 0.24 in x 0.20 in x <0.039 in. This is a huge leap when compared to the size of older types, and certainly a step in the right direction.
When was Embedded-SIM introduced?
The idea of its use started floating around 2010, but Motorola thought it best used in industrial devices, while Apple wanted to use it in the commercially available, consumer products. That change started to be apparent toward the late 2010s when all-new card models in the European Union started to have an e-SIM. It provided them with access to emergency services wirelessly and hands-free, and the benefits of having a satellite positioning system at all times.
It was Google that made the first smartphone that was e-SIM compatible, Google Pixel 2, in October 2017. It was limited to their own Google Fi service and remained that way until May 2019, when the release of Google Pixel 3a and Google Pixel 3a XL allowed other carriers to harness its potential. Apple added the support for embedded SIM cards in September and October 2018, with the release of 3 new smartphones, Apple iPhone XS, Apple iPhone XS Max, and Apple iPhone XR.
What’s in the package?
Many users are left surprised when they still receive a package from their provider, even though it’s clear that there’s no actual SIM card inside. In reality, the package is typically there to provide necessary instructions for less tech-savvy users. In addition, it has a QR code printed on it, and just by opening your camera, you’ll be able to download a profile or get further information right away.
As mentioned, this type of SIM will allow every mobile service provider to essentially “beam” the software for the card wirelessly. The first obstacle was that one SIM card could only have one active user profile at one time. This meant that the profile had to be wiped, and replaced by a new one. Apple already tackled this issue with its own e-SIM which allowed you to pick among multiple available carriers on-the-go.
The first thing that’s apparent is the production and shipping costs. Having an embedded SIM card means that it can be mass-produced and placed onto the PCB (printed circuit board) of the smartphone directly. It need not be shipped separately and ordered once a customer request a new one. Furthermore, the main reason behind the reduction in the size of SIM cards was to make smartphones thinner, and by removing the need for factory customization, also cheaper.
Without having a manually inserted card, manufacturers can design their devices to be even slimmer than they are. Furthermore, there will be no need to create special trays that just add another worry to making your smartphone waterproof or water-resistant. It truly benefits everyone – the manufacturer, you, the user, and the environment, as it’s sustainable and reduces plastic production.
Besides eliminating costly fees to have a technician look at your SIM card, or having to order a new one if your phone gets stolen or lost, there is another benefit. Having a software-driven SIM allows you to receive constant security updates throughout its long life-cycle instead of having them be integrated and relevant only at the time of its manufacturing. The only downside is that providers themselves have full control over, but that’s no surprise.
Dual Embedded-SIM card?
The need for having two SIM cards in your smartphone to harness their power will be eliminated with this type. Having the ability to simply erase and download new profiles from your provider, or use multiple providers at once is the true value of e-SIM. Besides making smartphones less bulky, there’s another benefit. Traveling to a new country will not require a purchase of a local “throwaway” SIM that you’ll just forget at the end of the trip. Downloading profiles are perfect for people who want to hop between providers at will without ever physically fumbling around with SIM cards and switching them up.
Other uses for Embedded-SIM
There’s no saying where e-SIM technology will take us. For now, it’s evident that it can be used for the technology of connected smart cars, industrial machinery and processes, artificial intelligence improvement, precise measurements and conversions in electronic devices, home security, traffic control, and a wide variety of other applications.