eSIM can Dramatically change the way you use your smartphone. Unlike a removable Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card, an eSIM is a permanent part of your phone and lets you use two different numbers on the same device. You can also use an eSIM to add cellular connectivity to tablets, smartwatches, and other devices.
If you’ve never heard of eSIM, don’t be sad. This emerging technology has been in development for more than a decade but was only made available to the public a few years ago. Steve Jobs may have wanted the first iPhone to ditch the physical card slot, and there are rumors that Apple may launch an eSIM-only device in the near future.
A quick jargon note: The term “physical SIM” usually refers to the old card you popped out of the side of your phone. While an eSIM is much smaller, it’s not trivial. In contrast, the term “removable SIM” makes more sense and emphasizes the embedded quality of an eSIM.
Can I use an eSIM on my phone?
Can you use this technology? Sadly, for anyone holding an antique (like an iPhone 8), the eSIM only works with newer smartphone models. The iPhone XR to iPhone 12 have a built-in eSIM, and the iPhone 13 models have two eSIMs. Except for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the latest Samsung phones are all eSIM compatible. Google phones released after the Pixel 3 can use an eSIM, unless you’re on Verizon, in which case it’s the Pixel 4 and above.
Unlike a removable SIM card, your smartphone needs to be unlocked to use an eSIM. Consumer Reports has a great article explaining how to get your smartphone unlocked from major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Each carrier has a webpage with step-by-step instructions on how to activate the eSIM after the phone is unlocked. Whether you’re through AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or another carrier, the activation process requires access to Wi-Fi or cellular data.
How to use two numbers on eSIM
Here’s how to activate two phone numbers on the same smartphone. First, you need to make sure your device has two eSIMs, or a combination of an eSIM and a removable SIM. Then you need to activate the auxiliary line and get it ready. Contact your carrier and it will provide you with a QR code or link to initiate eSIM activation. iPhone users can follow the process outlined in this helpful video from Apple Support.
If you’re a tablet owner and curious about cellular connectivity, the Apple iPad (2021, 9th gen), Apple iPad Air (2022, 5th gen), and Microsoft Surface Pro 8 are all eSIM-compatible and at WIRED’s best tablet computer list. Whether you have a Samsung Galaxy Watch4 or an Apple Watch Series 7, both devices include an eSIM that you can choose to activate.
Business people who want to tie their work and personal numbers to the same device can use a smartphone with an eSIM connection. (Although that does sound like a recipe for a late-night texting disaster.) International travelers might appreciate being able to quickly switch between paid services when crossing the border. A video describing the new technology as a “travel hack” went viral on TikTok.
If you’re an edge user switching between multiple devices, you may find eSIM frustrating. Fortunately, we’re still a few years away from eSIM-only smartphones becoming the exclusive option available for purchase. So you can unabashedly grab those metal rods in the junk drawer. (I’m.)
For most people who rarely think twice about installing a SIM card, switching to an eSIM is also a smart decision in terms of privacy. According to the FCC’s website, eSIMs offer “significant security advantages.” Using an eSIM can prevent some SIM swapping attacks that threaten your smartphone.