TMCnet Feature
June 25, 2020

Unpacking the potential of eSIM in the USA

Way back in 2010, the possibilities of a software-based SIM card were first being discussed by a global association of wireless telephone operators, the GSMA (News - Alert). By embedding a SIM that could be activated over-the-air, handset manufacturers could consider removing the traditional SIM card slot and utilizing the additional space for new features and design. More importantly, developing an eSIM for the USA and the rest of the world was expected to speed up the progress of machine-to-machine (M2M) services and give non-traditional devices access to mobile broadband.

Ten years later, hundreds of millions of consumers are now - whether they are aware of it or not - holding an eSIM-enabled device in the palm of their hand, or wrapped around their wrist. eSIMs are being used in everything from in-car entertainment systems, to scooter rentals. From alarm systems, to pet trackers.

At the 4th World eSIM Summit held in Berlin earlier this year, the GSMA presented their latest research and attributed Apple’s (News - Alert) early integration of eSIM technology into their devices to the huge rise in eSIM support from operators and manufacturers alike. In November 2018, a mere fifteen network operators provided support for eSIM in a select handful of Apple and Google (News - Alert) Pixel devices. To-date, there are over one hundred participating network operators supporting everything from Huawei’s P40, to the latest eSIM Samsung models.

Undoubtedly there is a lot of excitement surrounding eSIM and huge potential for growth. So, what does the future hold?

Why use an eSIM in the USA?

In the USA, demand for eSIM is quietly growing.

“Month on month, we’re seeing a steady rise in online searches for eSIM in the USA,” James Ashby, Product Manager for online eSIM store,, explained. “I think people are getting excited about the possibilities of eSIM and they’re beginning understand the enormous benefits of this technology.”

eSIM has long been considered a solution to traditionally-expensive roaming charges faced by smartphone users while overseas. While abroad, those with a regular SIM card cannot access a local network (and thus, benefit from local rates) without purchasing a local SIM card and removing their existing SIM. Should the user wish to keep using their normal SIM card while in another country, they’re tied to the rates determined by their domestic operator or have to rely on Wi-Fi.

As an eSIM can store multiple profiles which are downloaded over-the-air, they help those with an  eSIM-enabled device bypass these roaming charges. Customers can purchase local eSIM plans from participating network providers, or buy eSIM plans designed for travel. Either way, the plan will work alongside a user’s existing SIM card and provides dual SIM functionality.

Dual SIM has also proven to be useful at home, as well as abroad.

“It’s been so interesting to see how people are using eSIM technology at home,” James, who helps develop eSIM plans for the USA, continued. “A lot of people are using data-only eSIM bundles as a monthly top-up when their existing allowance runs out, and others are using that second line to combine their personal and business accounts into one phone."

Which USA carriers support eSIM?

In the USA, consumers can choose to purchase an eSIM package from one of their traditional wireless carriers, which include:

  • Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless
  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile USA

Alternatively, there are a growing number of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) offering competitive eSIM plans that can be purchased online.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators

MVNOs are growing in popularity as it has given consumers an alternative channel to purchase mobile services, away from the traditional wireless carriers. Despite using the existing cellular infrastructure owned by these carriers, MVNOs are often recognized for offering much cheaper rates and a wider range of products.

In the past year, many MVNOs have launched their own online eSIM stores. As eSIM plans are downloaded over the internet and activated by scanning a QR code, purchase and installation is immediate. As customers no longer have to wait for a new SIM card/QR code to arrive in the post (or visit the carrier in-store), online stores are becoming popular with early adopters and those interested in testing out whether an eSIM is right for them.

Some of the most popular online eSIM stores and MVNOs include:

  • TruPhone
  • Ubigi

What’s next for eSIM in the USA and worldwide?

With a growing and varied supply of eSIM plans on the market, it’s sure to change the buying behavior of consumers in the USA and across the world. Gone are the days of requiring a new SIM card in order to switch between network providers; customers can now download a new eSIM plan at the drop of a hat and ensure they benefit from the best deal possible.

This presents an interesting challenge for traditional wireless carriers who will have to adapt their product offerings and operations. A digitalized SIM card requires new partners and expertise, new sales and distribution channels, and an ever-present need to ensure compatibility across devices.

Of course, with any new technology comes new opportunities. While operators will have to adapt their offerings, eSIM opens up new, untapped markets where devices and machines will be connected.

Embedded SIM technology has come a long way since that task force set out to deliver a software-based SIM card ten years ago. As a growing number of consumers become aware of eSIM, it’s sure to be an interesting decade ahead.

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