back to article Boom! Just like that the eSIM market emerges – and jolly useful it is too

Well, that didn't take long. Owners of new iPhones can now download an app and stick some data and minutes on the second SIM that Apple has thoughtfully included, allowing cheap calls and roaming data that your main SIM provider might not include. The UK's veteran virtual SIM pioneer Truphone was the first to break cover, …


  1. Spazturtle Silver badge

    I'm not sure I buy the argument in favor of keeping physical sims. Instead of SIMs shops could instead sell cards with a QR code contain all the SIMs data which the phone reads and installs as an eSIM.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Or you could just sell a SIM that's programmable as an eSIM if you send it the right codes.

      Then people can still pick up SIMs if they so desire, use eSIMs in legacy devices with no special support required (a SIM is really just a smartcard that accepts certain commands), or it can even be a "reprogrammable" physical SIM that you have to stick into an adaptor to load a new eSIM onto it.

      When the cheap Chinese stuff to manage these things starts to appear, then you know they have become mainstream.

      But a supplier could easily deal exclusively in "eSIMs" and just give their customers a "reprogrammable" physical SIM if they ask for one.

      1. Mookster
        Big Brother

        All SIMs are reprogramable - you just need the right GlobalPlatform keys...

        1. soulrideruk Bronze badge

          All SIMs are reprogramable - you just need the right GlobalPlatform keys..

          Excatly. You wouldn't be able to transfer your phone number otherwise. It would require a new sim.

          1. dajames Silver badge

            Re: All SIMs are reprogramable - you just need the right GlobalPlatform keys..

            Excatly. You wouldn't be able to transfer your phone number otherwise. It would require a new sim.

            No, the SIM doesn't know what its number is. Some networks program the phone number into a SIM when it is provisioned, but if you buy such a SIM and then port your number to it the number stored in the SIM doesn't change (doesn't have to change - some networks may change it, mine didn't). The network manages the relationship between the SIM's identity and the number associated with it, not the SIM itself.

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Which option makes SIM swap fraud and two-factor authentication defeat easier or harder?

      Not that I know for sure, but I'll guess that this is easier, because - maybe with a jailbroken phone and a bootleg criminal app - a villain can simply program the eSim to be an identical clone of my actual SIM, wait for me to use the underground car park at work with no service, then they are the owner of my phone number and my actual SIM is the clone. What stops them from doing this? Besides that I don't use the underground car park. But I could. If there was one.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Which option makes SIM swap fraud and two-factor authentication defeat easier or harder?

        Easy to work around, just require the real SIM be momentarily inserted into the phone to "clone" it into the eSIM.

        1. Mookster

          The whole point of eSIM is that it prevents attackers from extracting the IMSI code (which is all you need to clone)

  2. Snorlax

    Or you could just...

    ...decide to forego a hideously overpriced iPhone XS/XR, and buy a proper dual-sim phone like a Oneplus 6T or a Huawei P20 Pro?

    According to Apple, eSIM support is only available in ten countries anyway...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: eSim support

      depends upon the carrier not Apple. If the carriers don't (or won't) offer it then it won't be available.

      Here in Blighty, it seems that only EE of the main carriers are offering it at present. Knowing EE, it will cost and arm and a leg but that's EE for you.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: eSim support

        You probably don't care if the "main carriers" support it at first - you'd put them in the physical slot and use the eSIM for an alternate carrier for specific purposes (i.e. travel, better rates to a specific country etc.)

        The main carriers will be forced to support it eventually - it is a 3GPP standard not some Apple only creation.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm pretty sure Apple's idea is you use the eSIM for your home country plan and put in a real SIM for the foreign country to get the cheap local rates while still able to receive SMS to your main number for banking screw ups etc. Truphone's model will be useful to some but it isn't what Apple intended.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      I think Apple's intent is for eSIM support to be universal so they can eventually drop the SIM slot. There's no reason a phone can't handle muiltiple "SIMs" with a single eSIM.

      In the meantime, they are serving a market they never served before by offering people who need two SIMs for whatever reason options - at least if one of their desired carriers supports eSIM. As it is a 3GPP standard, support will come to all eventually.

    2. bazza Silver badge

      SIM. rental is pointless...

      ...if there's a whole bunch of you travelling together (eg a family). Renting a MiFi is more economical as everyone can use that, saves renting 4 separate SIMs. Rental SIMs often don't permit tethering, so running a WiFi hot-spot off one phone won't necessarily work.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd have thought most of those "benefits" such as having the ability to use two numbers or to "take advantage of local rates" already applied to phones with two SIM slots? They're not eSIM exclusive features...

    They can't WAIT to make phones eSIM only, can they? Then they can make certain models carrier-exclusive with no unlock capability. And I'm sure they'll get a nice kickback from the carrier.

    Looks like another case of Apple locking down their hardware, restricting choice and at the same time telling people it's for their own good. Which they believe for some reason.

    1. Snorlax


      @AC:"They can't WAIT to make phones eSIM only, can they? Then they can make certain models carrier-exclusive with no unlock capability. "

      That's what CDMA phones are all about. Change provider? Buy a new phone...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @AC

        True. But they currently can't enforce it in countries like the UK as the GSM standard requires a physical SIM. Or at least it used to.

        1. Mookster

          Re: @AC

          Apple went to standardisation. eSIM is accepted to be "the same" as a real SIM

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @AC

        Children eat more ice-cream in the summer.

        The number of accidents involving children increase in the summer.

        Eating ice-cream causes accidents. We need to stop kids eating ice-cream for their safety.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Apple isn't looking for "kickbacks from the carrier" - they don't have anything to do with the carrier and don't like the fact they can be locked to a carrier if they don't have to. They aren't the ones allowing carriers to modify their software, or put their branding on the phone, that's Android OEMS.

      It is far more likely carriers would sell branded Androids permanently locked to their own network. Probably offered as a 'lease' where you never own the phone, to get around any consumer protection laws that require letting the owner unlock a phone after it is paid off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Uhh...okay. So the fact you could only buy the original iPhone with a 2-year AT&T contract had nothing to do with Apple?

        And nobody mentioned modifying software or putting branding on their phone. Why are you talking about Android when nobody has mentioned Android eSIMs and the article is about an actual Apple product that exists?

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Apple's original AT&T deal

          So the fact you could only buy the original iPhone with a 2-year AT&T contract had nothing to do with Apple?

          Of course it did. But Apple needed carrier support to be able to 1) sell phones that didn't have ANY carrier modifications, which 100% of phones did in 2007 and 2) to put in technology for visual voicemail, which did not exist until Apple did it.

          In exchange for those concessions, Apple gave AT&T an exclusive in the US for a few years. They did similar exclusives in some other countries - and in some other countries didn't offer the iPhone at all at first if no carriers would play ball with them.

          The nice world (most) Android owners live in today where they can buy a phone free from any carrier installed cruft was made possible by Apple applying pressure and making it happen first. If Apple hadn't done this, we'd probably still live in the bad old world of every phone being sold through the carrier, with carrier branding and software - and features they didn't like being disabled or limited.

        2. bazza Silver badge


          Uhh...okay. So the fact you could only buy the original iPhone with a 2-year AT&T contract had nothing to do with Apple?

          The original iPhone was AT&T because they were the only network in the US running GSM. Apple back then had hardly any money, and couldn't afford to do both a CDMA and GSM phone. Therefore they picked GSM so as to be able to sell to the whole world, not just the USA. Restricting sales to AT&T was of little importance in comparison.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            T-Mobile was GSM, too, even then. Why were they left out?

          2. DougS Silver badge

            Apple had little money in 2007? They were making a killing selling iPods back then! This wasn't the 1997 Apple that was in danger of going under.

            They didn't support CDMA because they didn't need it, because they had an exclusive with AT&T.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      pick a side

      >> They can't WAIT to make phones eSIM only, can they? Then they can make certain models carrier-exclusive with no unlock capability.

      You are contradicting yourself in the same comment - nothing exclusive to eSIM followed by a supposedly eSIM only disadvantage.

      The disadvantages of eSIM are not exclusive, there are advantages -

      Swapping electronically is easier than swapping physically just like all other e-things being easier.

      The physical space saved could be put to better use.

      I don't have to care about mini and nano sims between phones.

      I don't have to deal with the sim tray pin and fiddling with it with my sausage fingers.

      Hell a carrier could instantly reprovision an eSIM to your number adding extra security over a physical SIM, without having you wait for a replacement physical SIM.

      So unless there are consumer protection laws that exclude eSIMs speifically, the disadvantages apply to physical sims just the same - hacking, carrier locking, and so on. A SW update blocking an eSIM can block a physical SIM too.

      On this I'm with Apple and am glad to see them drive the transition. Like the notch, Android hopefully follows.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: pick a side

        "So unless there are consumer protection laws that exclude eSIMs speifically, the disadvantages apply to physical sims just the same - hacking, carrier locking, and so on. A SW update blocking an eSIM can block a physical SIM too."

        How can a software update block the PHYSICAL act of changing the SIM? And since it's hardware-based, blocking can risk a pitfall if the same carrier issues a new series. Software will always carry a risk of it being subverted since, being SOFTware, it can be altered.

        1. LOL123

          Re: pick a side

          Because SW uses the fricking thing in both cases. The physical version is still a store of a borrowed set of keys, the SIM isn’t making phone calls the modem does.

          If a phone is eSIM carrier locked, it can be physical SIM carrier locked the same way.

          If malware hacked a phone to block eSIMs, it can block physical SIM interaction just the same.

          If you plug in the physical SIM on another phone, you can remote provision another phone with the eSIM.

          The eSIM implementation like TPM or encryption is not pure SW and involves a secure element.

          So no I still don’t get the comments about security being better with physical SIMs.

          I don’t get the point about “carrier issues new series”. The keys are carrier verified, otherwise the dialling number would keep working even if bills weren’t paid. Your SIM card is directly not linked to your dialling number, it gives the IMSI that your carrier makes your dialling number.

          That is why number porting happens without the SIM changing.

          Please give a example of an eSIM specific subterfuge that cannot be done with a physical SIM.

          Either this pure paranoia conceived from the letter “e” or there is a genuine example available that actually understands how SIMs (e and physical) work.

      2. dajames Silver badge

        Re: pick a side

        Hell a carrier could instantly reprovision an eSIM to your number adding extra security over a physical SIM, without having you wait for a replacement physical SIM.

        Yes, a carrier could do that. It wouldn't add any more security than a physical SIM -- and would only add as much security as a physical SIM if the phone had a secure storage area in which to hold provisioning data securely -- but it could be done ... if the carrier wanted to do that.

        The problem with eSIMs is a lack of support from carriers. Carriers already support physical SIMs, and it would be extra work for them to offer eSIMs as well.

        Carriers are also generally distrustful of anything that might lead to their having to share their customers' business with anyone else -- which is why (in the UK, at least) the major carriers don't offer dual-SIM phones. An eSIM system is just another way of providing dual (multiple!) SIMs, and carriers see that as a way of forcing them to share their business, possibly with other carriers who will undercut them. They see a loss in revenue.

        The great thing about physical SIMs is that all phones need them. You can go anywhere in the world (with the exception of a few countries where you need to, e.g., prove residence to have a mobile at all) and buy a PAYG SIM that gives better rates for data (especially) and local calls than your own SIM from home; you just pop that SIM into your phone and go. You don't need to negotiate with a carrier who doesn't want to know, you just do it.

        A Physical SIM in the hand is worth more than any number of hypothetical eSIMs that you can't actually get. eSIMs will never really take off until every carrier offers them routinely to anyone who wants one.

  5. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    300MB for £6 a day

    Bit steep.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 300MB for £6 a day

      Depends who your current contract is with.

      If its with the Vodafone then you could be looking at £5 per MB when roaming to countries not covered in your contract. At which point 300MB for £6 starts looking like a veritable bargain.

      1. Fazal Majid

        Re: 300MB for £6 a day

        When travelling, I use a Skyroam hotspot, it’s $12/day for unlimited data.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can you access the eSim from the Apple Watch 4?

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      You can if your carrier permits multiple devices to use the same sim simultaneously.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm confused.

    How is this any different to phones that take 2 SIMs ?

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused.

      It is not really any different, except one of the sims is a flashable chip so instead of needing to go to a store to get a SIM you can just download one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm confused.

        If the carrier subsidising the phone allows it

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If the carrier subsidising the phone allows it

          Not I'm even more confused. I bought my dual-SIM phone outright, so no one is subsidising it.

          And it will be a cold day in hell before I ever buy a phone from a network again.

          1. Roq D. Kasba

            Re: cold day in hell

            I thought that for a couple of iterations, but suddenly spotted a great carrier subsidy-based deal where the flagship phone was bundled. The SIM-only contract for the same data/calls/texts was £27/month, the package just £30, so it made a heap of sense to pay 24months x £3 for the device.

            But at the contract end I'll be quite open to going SIM only again...

      2. Graham Cobb

        Re: I'm confused.

        It is not really any different

        The difference is the way it can be used, and the business models associated with it. It becomes possible for you to "buy" a SIM instantly, anywhere in the world, and from any vendor located anywhere in the world.

        Acquiring a SIM can be as simple as downloading an app or just registering on a website. We are likely to see special-purpose eSIMs. For example, Disney could offer a SIM, worldwide, with a subscription to their movies, or Steam could offer one with a subscription to their games. Why would they? Well, there are a few obvious reasons like bundling and advertising (and bypassing Google) but the real answers will come when disrupters and innovators come up with ideas none of us have thought of.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm confused.

          Why would you need specialist eSIMs for that? You can already get contracts that offer free connection to services like Youtube, Netflix, Spotify, Soundcloud, Facebook etc etc

          There isn't a 1:1 connection between the SIM and the contract you have with your provider.

          And there'd be nothing stopping Disney offering specialist physical SIMs. Hmm. I'm actually surprised they haven't thought of this - providing "free" SIMs to UK tourists going on vacation to Disneyworld...they already like monitoring guest movement around their properties...this would make it even easier...

  8. steelpillow Silver badge


    With more manufacturers already putting eSims in their devices, such as the Planet Gemini, this will be an interesting market place to watch.

    I am hopeful that my physical SIM provider will feel obliged to offer greater incentives, i.e. better services, to attract me away from activating my eSIM.

  9. Dave 126 Silver badge

    > Apple added a secondary eSIM slot

    No, there's one just SIM slot (except in Chinese model). The eSIM doesn't go in a slot.

    Here's iFixit confirming that there's just one SIM slot on non Chinese iPhones:

  10. silks


    Had a trial recently with Truphone on my iPad, worked just great. Easy signup, no physical SIM.

  11. Jemma Silver badge

    And jolly useful it is too....???

    Are you nuts?

    Seriously can I have some of whatever it is you've been dosing up with cos it looks like it leaves "special K" in the dust.

    This is such a bad idea in general - for many reasons - not least limited to how you call out if the esim can't register properly (in the desert with a broken leg & intermittent signal, yer dead, mate, no worries), security (an esim will be much more easily hacked if it's incorporated into the OS), power usage and let's not forget complete and utter update borkage. Then there's the I paid for an update and I didn't get it... And soo soo many other potential issues.

    And *then* you pipe up and say that you are happy for Apple to be in charge of this? And it'll be, and I quote, cheap?? Apple haven't done cheap since 1977 and they haven't done trustworthy *ever*. "oh, you're in the desert, have just played dare with a Massasauga rattlesnake and lost, and you want to call emergency services using our esim?? That'll be a 5000% markup or we'll block you from calling 911" (or whatever). Want 0345 numbers to be able to contact you through our esim (used by amongst others the NHS, ask me how I know) - that'll be the premium plan at £10 a minute.

    It's a bloody bad idea in the first place - for many reasons.. But giving Apple the keys to the whole backhaul as well as handsets and the like is somewhat akin to aiming a PAK 88mm at your feet and doing what comes naturally.

    I can almost see a Untergang parody about this... With the cute blonde secretary chick (Traudl Junge) leaning over to her mate and quietly saying "there's still Android..." cue another frothing rant...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: And jolly useful it is too....???

      As far as I'm aware, you can make an emergency call on a phone without any SIM in it. Why should that be different with an eSIM equipped phone? Equally if you're on a network without signal, an emergency call should theoretically roam onto another network.

      Apple are, as you say, bloody expensive. But one of the reasons they succeeded in the first place was by browbeating the networks into giving consumers reasonable deals. Obviously the iPhone itself was always expensive, but they got the carriers to allow reasonable data packages and forced them to accept phone unlocking - done through Apple, rather than the networks (who used to try and avoid doing it for you). Apple are often interested in value for money, when it's other company's profits it hurts - not their own.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: And jolly useful it is too....???

        What exactly do you think Apple is "in charge of". eSIM is a 3GPP standard, not a special Apple only thing. If you think Apple is going to restrict you to an Apple approved list of carriers, then you can relax because they can't even if they wanted to.

        And since it sounds like you aren't a fan of Apple, I'm sure not why you'd care if they could because you aren't going to own one of their phones anyway.

        1. Jemma Silver badge

          Re: And jolly useful it is too....???

          Yes it might be a 3GPP standard but do you remember how html etc was a standard until Microsoft got a hold of it with IE6, buggered about with it until it was a living hell & then everyone had to put up with it for years, ditto Java etc - and visual sodding basic (the NHSs raison'd'existence).

          If Apple use this there will invariably be an Apple take on it, and the Apple using tech writers will then whine that Android or whoever else aren't confirming to the international standards, ie Apples, (as usual) and then it'll be let's all use Apple's implementation and right after that, when Steve Jobs IV puts his buttplug in on the wrong side one morning, it'll be - oh we're not going to license this for a reasonable price because a) profit and b) my haemorrhoids are killing me.

          There is no way that fits within the rules of physics where Apple getting any leverage on backhaul kit, sims, esims and all the rest of the gubbins (thank you SAS) is going to be good for any customer. Apple has always had and will always have one interest. Apple. Hell, back in the days of G3 macs they flat out admitted they made their cases out of razor blades to make sure no "third parties" repaired them (for less than half the Apple rate) - I've got the scars and I got a job once on the basis of my predecessor accidentally opening his wrist on a beige Apple Mac case and ending up with nerve damage & a blood transfusion.

          1. Just Another SteveO

            Re: And jolly useful it is too....???

            Apple are already using it - my iPad pros both have esim t-mobile activations for the US alongside the UK Three physical SIMs. Works really well, no suggestion of making it difficult, and oh, did some one else already say it’s a standard?

            Really convenient for me, maybe not for you, so, bottom line, don’t like it? Don’t use it and spare the rest of us your bias.

      2. Jemma Silver badge

        Re: And jolly useful it is too....???

        It will be different because if the esim is part of the OS and not removable it'd be really easy to flash a firmware on that locks the emergency lines and claim it can't work any other way. Given the average MP has all the processing ability of a Triumph Heralds ECU and all the technical nous of Pinky from Pinky & the Brain... How do you think that's going to play out?

        Then you have roaming. At the moment Apple don't give a flying one about what network you use or whether you cross link to another one in an emergency, ie roam, or even if you do it accidentally because some cretin gave your phone to a 3 year old.. Exactly how long do you think that state of affairs will last when Apple manages to become its own mobile phone provider/network? Impartiality of networks on an iPhone will last about as long as a bus load of kittens stood in front of a Livens Long Gallery Flame Projector.

        "You vant to be using anozzer netvork, Herr A.N. Other? Sehr gut, das ist fine - but you understand very must be charging you a premium, no?... "

        And if *all* the kit is Apple brand (taking it to its dystopian conclusion) what's to stop them doing what they like? The British government - don't make me laugh - it'd take six months of slow single syllable explanations before they had an inkling of a concept of an understanding of the problem, and 2 years before they made a decision (which would probably be wrong). There is absolutely nothing that could be done if a supplier of the backhaul kit that was a majority or (if they were really dumb) sole supplier used their own product backdoor and locked everyone out. It's entirely possible - it's part of what scares the US witless (for a given value of "wit") about Huawei - the possibilities of subversion or hostile action.

        Giving any company the ability to butt-rape you, your important infrastructure and your country's security is a baaaad idea. It just seems like no one read that particular memo. It's like everyone has decided that their hero is General Elphinstone & that an electronic version of the Fall of Kabul is a fantastic idea don't ya know.. Old chap..

        To paraphrase

        Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I saw Tony Blair, 9/11, the 2004 Tsunami & Lehmann Brothers. Name the biggest bunch of sociopathic bastards of the 21st century – Zuckerberg, Musk, Elop, Paltrow, Trump - I know of them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly that for pure, unvarnished greed, for superb ability to command incompetence, to sell to ignorance combined with bad judgment – in short, for the true talent for catastrophe – Steve Jobs stood alone. We will not, with luck, see his kind again.


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