As the final holdouts of the CDMA mobile networks are switched off in the US in 2020/21, all mobile phones in the entire world will soon run on the “GSM network” (the rest of the world switched off their analog and CDMA networks a long time ago). GSM phones use a little piece of plastic with a chip on it, called “SIM card”, to identify themselves and connect to the GSM network. You’ve likely seen a SIM card before, but even if you haven’t (eg. if someone else set your phone up for you), then your phone has a SIM card in it.

SIM cards can only connect to one network. If you get a Telstra SIM, you can’t connect to Vodafone with it. Not only that, but each SIM can be activated on only one mobile number, once. This means that moving your mobile number from one company to another, or signing up for a new number, involves getting a new SIM, activating it, porting your number to it, then swapping it over in your phone when the old number loses service.

The idea of an electronic, reprogrammable and standardised SIM card replacement that could be built directly into the electronics of a device has been discussed in the industry since 2010, but it wasn’t until 2016 that one was actually introduced by Samsung in their Gear 2 smartwatch. Since then, various phone and smart watch manufacturers have been adding eSIM technology to their devices, mostly ahead of the capability of GSM network carriers to support them (you can check with your carrier of choice whether or not they support eSIM, the list will be constantly changing and support will only increase).

What are the advantages of an eSIM versus its plastic predecessor?

eSIMs are no different in terms of their core functionality (they still basically allow a device to connect to a mobile network), but they present some advantages.

Firstly, the process of subscribing to a network provider, moving your number between providers, changing plans and so on can all be done electronically. Imagine that you wanted to switch from Telstra to Vodafone, and instead of having to call them up and order a new SIM card, and wait for it to be delivered and then activate it and wait for your old SIM to lose service once the number was ported and then swap the SIM cards over, you could simply pull up a menu on your phone, switch to a new provider/plan and be done within seconds. This is predicted to create more competition and drive down prices (although we’ll see what phone carriers come up with in terms of tactics to lock customers in …)

Secondly, they take up less space. Traditional SIM cards needed to have a casing or slot into which they were inserted. In the world of electronics, every little bit of space is valuable, especially in wearable and “internet of things” devices. More space available means more power can be fit into the same sized devices, or devices can be smaller. This will not only improve upon the power and performance of our existing devices, but will also create opportunities to connect even more devices and everyday objects to the internet and manage connectivity costs remotely.

What eSIMs can NOT do

There is a common misconception that an eSIM will allow greater flexibility in mobile communications.

While it’s true there will be greater flexibility in which carrier you choose and how easy it is to switch, the actual everyday functionality of an eSIM is no different from a regular SIM. You can still only have one number per eSIM, you can’t access calls or messages remotely without some additional software, you can’t route calls differently and so on.

So while eSIMs are cool, they don’t really do anything to innovate in terms of business communication. They are not “virtual numbers”. Although it may be easier for device manufacturers to include multiple eSIMs in their devices, this will really be no different from traditional dual SIM phones that have been around for years.

In general, you don’t need to take any action regarding an eSIM. Device manufacturers and carriers will eventually move all of their customers over to this new technology.However, if you want the flexibility and power that comes with an Australian virtual mobile number backed by a full cloud phone system, then you can check out BenkoPhone, which is the best business phone system for Australians.