Apple & Samsung’s eSim

For the unaware, Apple & Samsung are working towards an agreement with the body that controls standards for mobile phone SIM cards, GSMA. The agreement is to remove the requirement for a small, plastic card that is inserted into the phone. Instead, it would be theoretically replaced with some hardware in the device. The proposed name for this new technology is eSIM.

This all sounds rather promising from the offset. Replacing stupid fiddly bits in any device is welcome, but I have an issue with the eSIM and I’m not sure if it’d be resolved.

You see, like many others in the world of modern working, I travel a lot. In the last two months alone I’ve been home, to the UK a few times, Spain & America. My carrier allows me to roam in the UK at no additional cost so that’s fine. But for roaming in Spain, America & other countries I swap out my SIM card. This gives me access to a host of benefits that other networks give me.

In more detail, I am a Three Ireland customer. They provide me with roaming to various countries at no additional cost. For me, this is why I’m a customer. Their roaming to the UK saves me a huge headache. Because they provide unlimited data, I can use maps to search for best tube routes from meeting-to-meeting, etc. I also have a Three UK SIM card. While they’re the same large conglomorate in theory, they offer different perks to customers. Three UK, unlike Three Ireland, has better roaming deals with other country carriers. So with my UK SIM I can roam in the US, Spain & other countries.

In short, I need to swap out my SIM card in order to roam around.

So my fear with the eSIM technology is that my phone would be locked into one specific carrier with no easy way to swap out to another. Accepted standards are one thing, but the ability to switch carrier plans is another. I don’t want to be locked into Three Ireland when I need to use my Three UK account to roam in the US.

What this means is that phones could have a CDMA (as opposed to GSM) style phone, which is not unusual in America. But here in Europe we really, really need GSM. I can see why the networks would like it. It’s an easy, cheap way for them to lock users into plans and contracts. And for Samsung or Apple it removes the need to create multiple different types of device (CDMA versus GSM, with various software locks for different networks like T-Mobile and AT&T). But for the consumer, without a way to switch out eSIMS this could be a disaster.

Of course, part of the spec could easily solve this problem. But for now all we have is a lively debate raging about the usefulness of this for consumers.