Now is the best time to switch to eSIM…
With the holiday season upon us, now is a good time to bite the bullet and get acquainted with a smartphone feature that many of us have ignored for years: the eSIM, the digital version of the SIM card, where your phone number is stored.
Among many benefits, eSIM technology is a boon for travelers and soon we will all be using it as the physical SIM card will be gone. let me explain.
Last year, Apple removed the SIM card tray from the iPhone 14 to make room. That means the SIM card, which acts as a key that connects your phone to cellular networks, is being phased out for Apple phones.
Where Apple leads, others usually follow, so you can expect phone makers like Samsung and Google to also bet on eSIM — a digitized SIM card embedded in the phone’s computer chip that you can activate with any cellular network’s service plan .
“Like it or not, it’s coming,” said Roger Entner, telecoms expert and founder of research firm Recon Analytics, of eSIM technology.
But this move isn’t really just about Apple. The Federal Communications Commission also favors eSIM technology because it makes it easier for people to switch carriers using software rather than going to a store to buy a physical SIM card. And the technology has security benefits: If your phone is stolen, thieves can’t remove an eSIM to hijack your phone number and commit identity theft like they could with a physical SIM card.
Most importantly, the experience of using eSIM data plans for travel has improved significantly. About five years ago, eSIM data plans for international roaming were overpriced and cellular service was sometimes unreliable. But over the past year I’ve tested some eSIM services while leaving the country and found them inexpensive and nimble.
As with any new technology, there are downsides. Activating a data plan on a foreign network with an eSIM is not as easy as inserting a different SIM card into your phone. The process is particularly challenging for those less tech-savvy, putting the burden on more tech-savvy companions to help them make the transition.
There are also privacy concerns. Many eSIM service providers offer apps that collect your data for tracking purposes.
You can use my experience as a template for the inevitable transition to eSIM. I recently tried eSIM data plans while traveling with several members of my family and acted as their tech sherpa through the Switch.
Step 1: Choose an eSIMThe main reason for using eSIM services for travel is to save money. Major US operators like AT&T and Verizon offer international roaming options, including $10 day passes for using your phone abroad. On a two-week family trip, the costs add up quickly.
An eSIM data package that can be used for the entire trip, on the other hand, costs a few euros. The tricky part is choosing an eSIM service provider as there are many and most are unknown brands like Airalo, GigSky and Flexiroam. (Apple provides a list of eSIM service providers on its website.)
For a recent week-long trip to Montreal, I researched travel blogs and settled on Nomad, which offered 1GB of data for seven days in Canada for $7. I had the option to activate the plan using Nomad’s app or by following the setup instructions on the company’s website. The app had high ratings in the App Store, so I clicked the download button.
Step 2: Activate the eSIM serviceOne nice thing about eSIM is that you can buy a plan and set up the service on your phone well before a trip and then activate it when you arrive at your destination. After you buy a plan, the eSIM service provider will send you a list of instructions.
The Nomad app showed a list of steps. In the iPhone’s Settings app, I clicked on the Cellular menu, clicked “Add eSIM” and entered an activation code. As I crossed the border into Canada, I went back to Cellular settings, selected the Nomad phone line, and toggled on the “Turn on this line” option.
“Therefore, you should always opt out of any tracking. You shouldn’t sell yourself for pennies for a dollar.”
(If you’re still using a physical SIM card for your domestic phone line, you don’t need to remove it. Simply turn off the service for your main line in the phone’s cellular settings to avoid roaming charges.)
After I decided on this eSIM plan, I shared the Nomad app with my wife and brother-in-law, who both followed the instructions to set it up themselves. I didn’t know how to advise my mother-in-law, who never downloads apps, about setting up the plan, so I did it for her.
Herein lies the real problem: non-tech-savvy people probably won’t know how to use eSIM services. When my mother-in-law was traveling to Hong Kong alone and I wasn’t around to set up the service for her, I told her to pay for AT&T’s international roaming plan and later find a store where she could get a SIM card can buy a phone provider from Hong Kong.
Terry Guo, a chief product officer at LotusFlare, the company that developed Nomad, agreed that the main demographic of travelers using eSIM service plans are younger, more tech-savvy people.
“We’re doing a lot of work on the app to make this easier,” he said.
Optional (but important) step: protect your privacyAnother disadvantage of eSIM services is data protection. All of the eSIM service providers I researched on Apple’s App Store indicated in their app descriptions that they did some tracking of users across different apps and websites.
Toni Toikka, the CEO of Alekstra, a company that helps businesses reduce their mobile bills, stressed the importance of protecting personal data from eSIM providers. He said many of these companies, known as mobile virtual network operators, have struggled to turn a profit.
“One way they think they’re making money is by selling your information,” Toikka said. “Therefore, you should always opt out of any tracking. You shouldn’t sell yourself for pennies for a dollar.”
Guo said that the Nomad app included Google’s analytics technology to see how people use the app, and people who logged into the app with their Facebook accounts could also be tracked by Facebook.
A simple workaround for data collection is to avoid logging into an app with third-party sites like Facebook and Google. Apple users can also click “Ask app not to track” when opening an eSIM app for the first time.
Android users don’t have the option to ask apps not to track them. Therefore, it is best to buy the eSIM plan from the company’s website and set up the service without downloading the app.
bottom lineOverall, the pros of eSIM outweigh the cons. Traveling with a smartphone with SIM cards was not relaxing as you had to carry a pin to eject the card tray. You also had to be careful not to lose the tiny SIM card.
When you return from a trip with eSIM services, all you have to do is return to the phone’s Settings app and turn your domestic phone line back on. This simplicity and security make eSIM worth the effort.
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