What Are eSIMs And How Do They Work In Australia?

how esims work australiaImage: Gizmodo Australia

eSIM is hot new tech that seems destined to replace the humble SIM card. It could even reshape the telco industry. Change always takes time, but we’re already seeing eSIM trickle into Australia.

It's even supported by the big three telcos on select devices.

But what actually is an eSIM? Here's everything you need to know.

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What is an eSIM?

eSIM (electronic SIM or embedded SIM) is a rewritable SIM card that's built directly into your smartphone, smartwatch, tablet or laptop. They're even beginning to make an appearance in cars.

An eSIM never leaves your device, so there's no need to mess around with finnicky trays or pry off a case. Instead, you download a "software SIM" from your provider of choice. In most cases, you'll do this by scanning a QR code.


Why eSIM?

Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone all allow eSIM instead of a physical SIM card if you have a compatible device. For example, the iPhone 11 or a Pixel 4. If you opt for an eSIM, this keeps your physical SIM slot free for a secondary SIM, essentially turning your device into a dual SIM phone. There a couple of reasons you'd possibly consider this:

  • You want to have a personal number and a work number without carrying two separate devices.
  • You want to keep using an Australian phone number when using your phone overseas, but pick up a more cost-effective local SIM for mobile data.
  • You want the benefit of coverage from two different networks. For example, if you get patchy Optus when road tripping, you could throw in a prepaid Telstra SIM in the second slot for additional coverage in the outback when you need it.

eSIM can also be used to share a phone number between a smartphone and a wearable device, like the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch Active 2. Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone all have wearable specific eSIM plans billed at $5 per month.


What's the point of eSIM?

Looking further forward, eSIM opens up a whole world of possibilities. It's easy to imagine a future where you'll essentially be able to change provider at any time from anywhere - assuming you're not locked into a contract). By removing the need for a new physical SIM card, eSIM could remove most of the friction from changing provider.

You wouldn't need to head into a store or place an order online to port your number. Instead, you'd make the request from your device, maybe print a QR code, and boom, new telco.

If adopted widely, eSIM would make it far easier to jump from provider to provider, which in turn, would increase competition. More importantly, it would help increase the visibility of smaller telcos with no retail presence. No more waiting for a SIM card to get delivered by post.

But that's the future, let's look at what telcos are doing right now in terms of eSIM.


eSIM on Telstra

If you're signing up for an eSIM enabled phone on a Telstra plan, you can pick between a physical SIM and an eSIM at checkout. These include the iPhone 11 family, the iPhone XS family, the iPhone XR, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, and the Galaxy Fold. Select iPads are also eSIM compatible.

Here are Telstra's 24-month 64GB iPhone 11 Pro plans:

And here are Telstra's 24-month 128GB Pixel 4 XL plans:

If you're an existing Telstra customer with a compatible device and you want to swap to an eSIM, you'll have to head into a Telstra store.

Telstra also has eSIM plans available for 4G-ready Windows 10 PCs. Unlike Telstra's mobile plans, these are purchased directly through your device and don't require a QR code. Until December 31, anyone with a compatible Windows 10 eSIM device can sign-up for a free 30-day trial that includes 30GB of data to use within Australia.


eSIM on Optus

If you're after an Optus eSIM, you'll need to head into a brick and mortar store to swap your physical SIM card for an eSIM. Even if you're ordering a new phone. Weird, right? Optus currently supports eSIM on the iPhone 11 family, the iPhone XS family, the iPhone XR, and the Galaxy Fold.

Here are Optus' 24-month 128GB iPhone 11 plans:

And here are Optus' 24-month 64GB iPhone 11 Pro plans:


eSIM on Vodafone

Vodafone's approach to eSIM is similar to Optus. Right now, you can only get a new device with an eSIM by heading into a store or by calling Vodafone. If you order online, you'll get a physical SIM card, but can then head into a store to swap over to an eSIM.

Vodafone's eSIM compatible devices include the iPhone 11 family, the iPhone XS family, the iPhone XR, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, the Pixel 3a, and the Galaxy Fold. Select iPads are also eSIM compatible.

Here are Vodafone's 24-month 128GB iPhone 11 plans:

And here are Vodafone's 24-month 128GB Pixel 4 XL plans:

If you're an existing Vodafone customer with an eSIM enabled device, you can swap your physical SIM to an eSIM by heading into a Vodafone store.


Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia's phone and internet comparison website.

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