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Technology is advancing daily and some of the latest flagship smartphones have eSIMs now. Major smartphone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung and Google already allow you to download an eSIM onto your handset. These devices still support physical SIM cards, but they let you get connected without one, if your network provider supports eSIMs.
The majority of handsets don’t support eSIM, but the way mobile technology is heading tells us that eSIMs will be the next big thing and eventually replace physical SIM cards. So what are they, what does eSIM mean and what do they do?
Table of Contents
What is an eSIM?
eSIM is short for ‘embedded SIM’, the term refers to a digital SIM which lets you use a SIM from a carrier without needing a physical SIM. We’re sure you know what a SIM card is, but if you want to learn more about the subject you can always have a read of our A-Z SIM Card Guide.
eSIMs are embedded inside your device and they’re reprogrammable, so that you don’t have to deal with physical SIMs when you want to switch your mobile network or jump between your work SIM and personal SIM. eSIMs make the switching to a new network process easier and faster. Since it’s embedded in your device all you have to do is download the eSIM or scan a code and your new plan will be ready to use. At the moment, most mobile devices which support eSIMs also come with a physical SIM slot and let you benefit from dual-SIMs.
We love this new technology, but we would be lying if we said eSIMs are flawless. There are a few downsides, but most of them are minor issues. In our opinion, the only real problem with eSIMs right now is only a handful of mobile networks in the UK support the technology. However, we expect more mobile network operators to follow the likes of EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 in the near future.
Pros and Cons of eSIM
While eSIM makes a lot of things easier for the consumer, we also need to address the elephant in the room. Let’s see what the benefits & downsides of eSIMs are.
Pros of using an eSIM
– Whether you’re getting a new SIM card from your current network or joining another, if you order a physical SIM, you’ll have to wait for the SIM to arrive, which can take a few days sometimes. eSIMs work right away! All you have to do is either scan a QR code or download your eSIM.
– You can’t lose an eSIM since it’s embedded in your device. Given how SIM cards are really small, this isn’t a bad benefit.
Traditional SIM cards require you to use a SIM pin to pull out the SIM tray from your device. Then you have to remove your SIM card, and put the other one in. eSIM eliminates the whole process.
– You can store multiple profiles on one smartphone. New iPhones can store multiple eSIM profiles, which means you can use more than one plan on your device. This is especially great if you’re using another SIM card for international roaming or needing free Wi-Fi hotspots from a network like BT Mobile or Virgin Mobile.
– An eSIM cannot be broken. Meanwhile, physical SIM cards can have physical issues. They can bend, get broken or the chip might get damaged.
– Switching to a new mobile network while keeping your phone number will be even easier now.
– You can start a new plan from a new network straight away, provided there are no credit checks needed. This feature isn’t yet available in the UK though.
Cons of using an eSIM
– In the UK, only EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 support eSIMs at the moment. Currently, Three’s eSIMs are only available in selected Three Stores in the North of England. The network is pushing a phased roll-out strategy. We expect the other mobile virtual networks to follow in the near future.
– At the moment, there are only a few handsets from Apple, Samsung and Google that support eSIM technology. Motorola Razr also supports eSIM, but it’s an eSIM only device, while all the other devices support dual SIMs.
– Only pay monthly plans are included at the moment. Pay As You Go customers have to wait till eSIMs becomes available for their plans. On another note, features like 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling work as intended.
– Not ideal for students at the moment. Only the latest flagship devices support eSIM and all four networks ask for a long-term contract. If you’re looking for a Student SIM Only deal, eSIMs become a pricey option. An alternative is to try to get a discount by purchasing a family mobile plan.
Which phones use an eSIM?
Like we said, currently there aren’t that many smartphones come with an embedded SIM. Only Apple, Samsung and Google offer eSIM ready handsets. Motorola also has one smartphone that comes with eSIM support. You can find the full list below:
Apple Devices: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR
Samsung Devices: Samsung Galaxy S20, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G, Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Google Devices: Google Pixel 3, Google Pixel 3 XL, Google Pixel 3a, Google Pixel 3a XL, Google Pixel 4, Google Pixel 4 XL
Motorola Devices: Motorola Razr (eSIM only, no physical SIM slots available)
Except the Motorola Razr, all the devices listed above support Dual SIM connectivity, meaning you can have an eSIM from EE, Vodafone, Three or O2 and also have another plan that requires a physical SIM.
Also keep in mind that, if you’re going to switch handsets you’ll have to delete your eSIM from your old device. If you delete your eSIM by mistake you can get a new eSIM pack from your provider.
If you’re on the market for a new handset with eSIM support, you might want to wait until Black Friday Sales. Network operators slash their prices significantly and you can take advantage of a great Black Friday SIM Only deal with a major discount! Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are also a great option if you’re looking for a contract phone with bad credit as well. Due to reduced prices your chances of passing the credit check can increase. Alternatively, you can buy a refurbished phone from a reliable seller. We strongly recommend checking EE’s store if you’re after a refurbished device, because they offer a lifetime warranty on all refurbished handsets. Check out our EE Review to learn more!
Are you interested in a brand new handset with an eSIM? Then O2 might have the deal you’ve been looking for. See our O2 Review and learn more about their customisable phone contracts.
Which UK Mobile Networks have eSIM?
At the moment, only the four major mobile network operators in the UK support eSIM plans. On the other hand, you can find SIM deals on any mobile network that offers a pay monthly phone contract.
Mobile virtual network operators don’t offer any eSIM packs yet, but we expect them to follow their host networks eventually.
If you bought your eSIM device directly from EE, the network will send you a scannable QR code, which will activate your SIM plan straight away. If you already have a device with eSIM support, you’ll need to order a new eSIM pack.
You can order a new eSIM pack by calling 150 from your EE phone or 0800 956 6000 from a different number. Alternatively you can just do it online via My EE, or go to an EE store. To scan your QR code and download your eSIM, you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection on your handset.
The network also allows you to replace your current physical SIM with an eSIM. You’ll need a pay monthly EE plan to use an eSIM or else it won’t work.
You can get an eSIM from Vodafone or replace your current SIM with an eSIM. Currently, Vodafone only supports eSIMs in handsets on its pay monthly plans. If you’re already a Vodafone pay monthly contract customer, you can switch from a physical SIM to a Vodafone eSIM. You may also add additional profiles to your eSIM.
Switching to eSIM with Vodafone is quite easy, as all you have to do is either scan a QR Code or create an eSIM via your Vodafone account or Vodafone’s mobile app.
Vodafone Basics Plans and Vodafone Unlimited Data Plans also come with eSIM support, provided your phone has an embedded SIM. However, the network’s traditional pay as you go service and Vodafone Big Value Bundles don’t offer eSIM support yet.
You can read our Vodafone Review and learn everything you need to know about the network and their eSIM deals.
As of October 2020 you can switch to eSIM on Three as long as you’re signing up for a pay monthly plan or already an existing pay monthly customer. However, Three’s eSIM packs are only available in the North of England at the moment. The network is branching their eSIMs to a wider audience, but it may take a little time before eSIM is available UK wide for Three customers.
You can get the cheapest unlimited data plan in the UK from Three for just £18/month on a 12-month contract and the deal supports eSIM. All Three pay monthly plans come with 5G coverage and Go Roam features. Make sure to read our Three Review to learn everything you need to know about the network!
If 5G is a must have for you, we strongly recommend checking out our Best 5G SIM Only Deals in the UK guide. You can also find out which network operator offers the fastest mobile download speeds in the UK.
There are two ways to get an eSIM pack from O2. You can either go to an O2 store and ask for an O2 eSIM pack or contact O2’s customer service via online or by calling 202. As stated earlier, O2 is no exception and they don’t currently offer eSIM for their Pay As You Go customers.
To use O2’s 5G you must have a 5G ready handset that is eSIM capable. You may also switch to a new tariff, if your current one doesn’t support 5G coverage. O2 is the second largest mobile network in the UK and we think O2 Priority alone is a good reason to join. However, if you’re a light mobile data user, there are cheaper SIM only deals from other networks you might want to check out. We still suggest having a read of our O2 Review before you make your final decision.
UK Mobile Networks without eSIM
At the time of writing, none of the MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) in the UK support eSIM. The only exception is BT Mobile, but they only provide eSIM to BT Business customers.
VOXI eSIM – VOXI is a mobile network powered by Vodafone, the UK’s oldest mobile network. They offer 5G at no extra cost, unlimited video streaming and unlimited data for social media. The carrier is yet to announce a launch date for their eSIM packs. – Read: VOXI Review
SMARTY eSIM – SMARTY uses the Three network and the carrier is a low-cost alternative to its parent company. If you’re looking for competitively priced student SIM only deals we strongly recommend SMARTY. We don’t know when SMARTY will launch their eSIM service. – Read: SMARTY Review
giffgaff eSIM – There are no set in stone dates for when giffgaff will launch eSIMs. Powered by O2, giffgaff offers flexible SIM only plans called goodybags. It’s a great alternative if you find O2’s price plans to be expensive or want to avoid long-term SIM contracts. – Read: giffgaff Review
BT Mobile eSIM – BT owns EE, and BT Mobile uses the EE network to provide 5G, 4G, 3G & 2G Coverage. The carrier provides eSIMs to their business customers, but regular customers will have to wait till eSIMs become available for them. BT Mobile’s family mobile plans are also pretty good. – Read: BT Mobile Review
iD Mobile eSIM – Powered by Three and owned by Carphone Warehouse, iD Mobile offers decent 4G coverage in the UK, plus you benefit from 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling if you join them. No announcements have been made about eSIMs yet. – Read: iD Mobile Review
Sky Mobile eSIM – Sky Mobile is using the O2 Network, and you can even get 5G coverage along with free Sky TV streaming. The network isn’t planning to launch an eSIM service any time soon though. – Read: Sky Mobile Review
Tesco Mobile eSIM – Another O2 powered network, Tesco Mobile is a great network for Tesco customers, and they have a wide range of price plans, plus multiple PAYG options. We don’t know when the network will launch eSIMs. – Read: Tesco Mobile Review
Virgin Mobile eSIM – Virgin Mobile is waiting for the O2 merger to make major changes and upgrade their plans and services. We don’t expect to see them offering eSIM packs before 2021. – Read: Virgin Mobile Review
1p Mobile eSIM – 1p Mobile is objectively the best pay as you go mobile network in the UK. The networks call, text and data rates start from 1p and they’re powered by EE, the best 4G network in the UK by a long shot. No date has been announced as to when they will start offering eSIMs. – Read: 1p Mobile Review
Superdrug Mobile eSIM – Superdrug Mobile is powered by Three, and they offer one of the best value unlimited data plans in the country. It’s unknown when the network will offer eSIMs. – Read: Superdrug Mobile Review
To The Moon Mobile eSIM – A young mobile network operator in the UK, To The Moon Mobile uses EE’s network to provide 4G coverage. We don’t know when they’ll launch eSIM packs.- Read: To The Moon Mobile Review
Honest Mobile eSIM – Honest Mobile mainly uses Three’s network, however if you purchase their Smart Signal bolt-on you can also get coverage from EE and O2. The network is quite eco-friendly too. They don’t offer eSIM, but given how green they are we expect them to offer eSIMs sooner than later. – Read: Honest Mobile Review
Lebara Mobile eSIM– Lebara Mobile is using Vodafone’s network to offer 30-day SIM only plans. The network is one of the best networks for international calls in the UK and we rate them highly. Having said that, we don’t know when they will launch their eSIMs. – Read: Lebara Mobile Review
Lycamobile eSIM – Lycamobile uses O2 as its network provider to offer cheap international calls to over 40 countries. The network didn’t make any announcements about eSIMs, so we don’t know when we will see them from Lycamobile. Read: Lycamobile Review
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an eSIM QR code?
QR codes are actually barcodes which can be scanned by a smartphone, providing easy access to necessary information. You can download your eSIM to your phone by connecting to an available Wi-Fi network and scanning your eSIM QR Code.
How to get an eSIM?
You can get an eSIM from your mobile network by either contacting their customer support or alternatively you can pop to one of their stores and get one in person. eSIM packs come with clear instructions, so installing an eSIM to your device is quite easy.
Can I remove an eSIM?
No, you can’t remove an eSIM. AneSIM is a type of SIM that is embedded in your device. It can’t be removed, but it can be deleted.
If I am using both my physical SIM and eSIM, do I have two active mobile phone numbers?
Yes, it means both your SIMs are active at the same time.You can make & receive calls & texts from both numbers.
Do eSIMs support 5G?
Yes. However, always make sure to check if your mobile network operator supports the feature. For instance, when O2 first launched their eSIMs they didn’t support 5G.
Can I get an eSIM on pay as you go or PAYG bundles?
No, at least not at the moment. Currently, eSIMs are only supported by pay monthly plans.
I deleted my eSIM, can I use my QR code again?
Usually yes, but it depends on your network. For example, O2 allows you to use the same QR code up to three times, provided you’re using the same eSIM ready device.
Can I use my eSIM QR code with another handset?
No, you can’t. Once you use the QR code the eSIM profile will be locked to that handset.