If you’ve ever had to port out your mobile number or change providers, the relatively simple act of inserting a SIM card and getting your new plan to work can be easily messed up. Similarly, if you need two numbers, for business purposes or just for convenience, there have previously not been many dual SIM phones out there.
If you’re a smart watch enthusiast, linking it up with your phone could also be problematic. In comes the ‘eSIM’ feature, and it’s the latest in technology made most popular in part by the newest iPhones.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM stands for ‘embedded SIM’ and simply removes the need for a physical SIM to be inserted into your phone. This is especially handy for those who like to change providers, or for those who simply can’t be bothered with the physical SIM card process.
- eSIMs also allow two numbers to be stored on the same phone.
- Unlike some dual SIM phones, both profiles can have numbers that are active at the same time, meaning you don’t need to switch between the two.
- eSIM also allows the connection between wearables (e.g. the Apple Watch) with the user’s smartphone. Previously, Bluetooth had to be used.
- eSIMs mean you don’t even need to change SIM cards when you’re overseas – simply find a compatible eSIM provider and off you go.
eSIMs have been in existence in Australia since about 2015, with the Samsung Galaxy 2 smart watch being one of the first devices to have the feature. As with many other technological advents, Apple made the eSIM term a headline in in 2017 with its Apple Watch 3, and in 2018 with the release of its latest iPhones, which have the feature. eSIMs may also eliminate the need for SIM card slots, which can aid with water resistance and stop dirt from getting in the precious internals of your new $1,000+ device.
So, how do you get your hands on this latest step towards the mobile tech future? You first need a compatible phone or watch, and then find a compatible provider that enables the feature. Below we’ve narrowed down some of the providers and phones to make the hunt a bit easier.
What is the difference between an eSIM and regular SIM cards
Functionally, eSIMs are not just smaller than regular SIM cards, they’re not physical at all. This means that, rather than using a SIM card provided by your phone plan provider, your phone plan is tied to your smartphone device through a chip on the motherboard. The plan can be bound and unbound from your phone at will, but in order to do so, you need to get in touch with your plan provider.
eSIMs are the next step in SIM card technology, and could be the standard way of using a phone plan in the future. Although eSIMs aren’t any faster or cheaper, they’re not physical. This saves you the pain of needing to insert your SIM card into your phone, plus the concern of having your SIM card damaged.
Although not every phone or plan can use eSIM technology, don’t feel left behind. eSIMs functionally can’t do anything differently to standard SIM cards, and not every provider in Australia offers eSIM plans. Right now in Australia, only Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have eSIM capable plans, and only a handful of smartphones have eSIM technology – in particular, the iPhone 12 range and the Galaxy S21 range.
This means that, if your focus is on getting an eSIM plan, it’ll likely cost you more than a plan with a SIM card and a phone without eSIM technology. That being said, phones that use eSIM technology are compatible with physical SIMs as well, so you can use multiple SIMs in your device (if you want a separate work plan from a personal plan).
What are the pros and cons of eSIM?
eSIM technology allows for easier switching between networks (without the need for a new SIM card), easily having multiple SIMs on your phone, and less hassle when needing to insert, remove or replace your current SIM card. Because eSIMs aren’t a physically removable component, switching between plans is theoretically easier, despite eSIM capable providers not being in abundance in Australia.
In the future, we might see another advantage of eSIMs being that there’s less physical space needed on a device, so phones could theoretically get smaller, despite being plenty thin already.
Of course, there are also disadvantages to the eSIM. In Australia, only three providers offer eSIM plans (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone), which means you’ll need a fairly pricey plan to use this technology. You’ll also need a more expensive phone that is capable of using an eSIM, such as an iPhone or a Galaxy S. It’s important to compare phones to find the features you’re looking for. Check out the list below to see if your device is capable.
What devices are eSIM compatible?
Below you’ll find a list of devices that are eSIM compatible. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list of eSIM compatible phones, just a snapshot of phones and devices that are.
Selected phones with eSIM Compatibility
- Google Pixel 5
- Google Pixel 4
- Google Pixel 4 XL
- Samsung Galaxy S21
- Samsung Galaxy S21+
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy S20
- Samsung Galaxy S20+
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
- iPhone 13 Mini
- iPhone 13
- iPhone 13 Pro
- iPhone 13 Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Mini
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone SE
Watches with eSIM Compatibility
- Huawei Watch 2 Pro
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Apple Watch Series 5
- Apple Watch Series 6
- Samsung Gear S2
- Samsung Gear S3
- Samsung Galaxy Watch
eSIM phone plans and providers
Currently there are only a select few providers that offer the eSIM feature. The ‘Big 3’ in Telstra, Vodafone and Optus primarily use the service to promote synchronisation between wearables and smartphones, rather than dual SIM capabilities and other purported features. All three providers offer eSIM use with compatible phones.
Telstra’s eSIM is called ‘One Number’ and is currently only available syncing with an Apple Watch and iPhone (running iOS 11 or higher), as well as Samsung Galaxy watches and phones. At present, only postpaid plans are available with the technology.
- Telstra charges an extra $5 a month for the privilege of using One Number, which is in addition to your phone plan.
Telstra now offers eSIM functions on select devices, including the iPhone 12 series. So, what plans can you currently get with Telstra? The following table shows a selection of published Telstra postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, smallest to largest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.
Optus calls its eSIM service ‘Number Share’ and it’s much the same as Number Sync and One Number. Compatible devices include the Apple Watch GPS+ Cellular and Samsung Galaxy Watch (Cellular), and iPhones running iOS 11 or higher.
- This service is a month-to-month add-on, and priced at $5 per month. However, selected Optus customers can access Number Share free when purchased with an eligible Apple Watch.
There’s good news if you happen to have, or have been considering an iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, SE 2020, the 11 series, XS, XS Max or XR from Optus — the eSIM function on these devices is supported by Optus through its postpaid plans. If you’re looking to buy one of these devices on a 12, 24, or 36-month plan from Optus and would prefer for your Optus SIM to be an eSIM, you’ll need to sign up in store as you can currently only access the eSIM QR codes in Optus stores.
The following table shows a selection of published Optus postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, smallest to largest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers.
Vodafone’s eSIM is called ‘Number Sync’ and is available on a range of Apple and Samsung watches and phones. Most Vodafone postpaid plans are compatible with eSIM, excluding prepaid and Cap plans.
- The first three months are free in the form of a ‘subscription credit’, and after that period you’ll be charged $5 per month for your eSIM in addition to your phone plan.
The following table shows a selection of published Vodafone postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, smallest to largest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.
What can eSIM do?
Here are some uses for an eSIM:
- Travel overseas: There’s no need to hunt around for a SIM card if you’re travelling overseas; simply contact a provider over there, or download the telco’s app, and get setup with your eSIM. Keep your Australian plan as well; there’s no need to remove your SIM card.
- Link your smartwatch: Previously you had to link your smartwatch to your phone via Bluetooth. Now you can accept calls on your watch when you’re out jogging or when out and about – leave the phone at home.
- Keep business separate: The dual SIM feature means you can keep two numbers on the same SIM and potentially turn off one number outside business hours, or choose to ignore that call.
- Get more bang for buck: eSIM allows you to potentially get a cheap data-only plan and pair it with a cheap unlimited plan. This could work out to be better value than if you just got calls, texts and data in one plan.
These four reasons suit a variety of different users. From jet-setters to corporate types and penny pinchers, eSIM can be useful for various walks of life; it all comes down to how you can find a use for it.
Should I get excited about eSIM?
eSIM is certainly an exciting idea in theory, but its execution in Australia may leave a bit to be desired. Currently, only a few providers have enabled the feature, which narrows your choice of plans; they also could charge a price premium for the service. Further to that, they seem to promote the linking of smart watches to smartphones, as opposed to all the other benefits eSIM can offer. However, eSIM’s future in Australia is bright. We might see more phone manufacturers rolling this function out with newer devices and therefore, more telcos supporting it.
As the technology is still in its infancy, the devices enabled with it – coupled with the providers offering it – limit eSIM’s accessibility right now. Currently, only premium smart watches and smartphones come enabled with the feature – you may not find the prices of these devices palatable; it’s more than $1,500 for the newest iPhones for example. Overall, however, eSIM is a promising technology, but it remains to be seen how it will play out in the telco world in Australia. All you can do is ‘watch this space.’