For the first time, Apple’s iPhone sports dual eSIM support, but it’s not clear how much that’s going to mean for the average consumer.
The feature was spotted earlier this week by 9to5Mac, which reported on how Apple introduced eSIM support on the iPhone and iPhone XR and iPhone XS back in 2018. eSIM is an electronic/embedded version of a physical SIM.
Even back then, it was clear that Apple was touting eSIM as a way for customers to maintain two different service accounts through a dual-SIM setup where one SIM is a traditional, physical SIM and the other is an eSIM. Still, there was no way to use two eSIMs simultaneously – until this latest development.
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The new capability is listed on Apple’s iPhone 13 specs page, with the caveat that not all carriers support eSIM. (The eSIM on iPhone is not offered in China mainland, for example.) The eSIM functionality makes it easier to switch carriers, which is one of the reasons it hasn’t been widely and eagerly marketed by U.S. carriers.
According to Apple, dual SIM can be used, for example, by those who want to use one number for business and another for personal calls or for separate voice and data plans.
The dual eSIM support is probably not as significant as supporting dual SIM via a single physical SIM card and an eSIM, said Anshel Sag, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “I think dual eSIM is kind of just an extension of that and enables even easier onboarding of customers onto new operators,” he told Fierce.
eSIM support is particularly beneficial for operators like T-Mobile that have allowed users to test drive their networks through an eSIM-enabled app, he noted. For example, “if someone was already on an operator via eSIM, they wouldn't have been able to take advantage of that, so this feels like a feature that would benefit users in places where eSIM is already quite popular,” he said.
According to Avi Greengart, lead analyst at Techsponential, dual eSIMs will have minimal impact on consumers. Some initial confusion might occur at Verizon, where they’re activating many new iPhone 13s with eSIM only; those customers who want physical SIMs (to move among many different phones, for example), will have to specifically ask for one, he noted.
Prior iPhones have had an eSIM slot for a few generations, and “all iPhones sold in the U.S. in the recent past support most or all the frequencies used by all the U.S. carriers, no matter where you bought it from,” he said. “That means that so long as the phone is paid for and not locked to the carrier, iPhones are fairly portable, and carriers and MVNOs alike have run ‘bring your iPhone to us’ campaigns.”
To guard against this, “carriers are offering huge hardware subsidies that pay out over many years – you are unlikely to switch to a new carrier if you still owe hundreds of dollars on your phone,” he said.
If consumers discover that eSIMs exist, that theoretically should be a boost to MVNOs who rely on the technology – especially ones with business models that complement, rather than replace, the user’s main carrier. “But, realistically, U.S. consumers barely know that they have a SIM card, never mind a changeable, silicon version, so MVNOs have a steep educational marketing hill to climb,” Greengart said.
Moor Insights’ Sag also sees room for improvement. “I think that this could potentially increase eSIM adoption as more operators push for eSIM as the primary means of provisioning devices and potentially driving down the cost and allowing for the easier provisioning of more devices on multiple operators,” he said. “Overall, I've found that eSIM support globally needs work and a lot of roaming becomes challenging with eSIM, so we aren't fully where we need to be as an industry to get eSIM where it ought to be.”