The SIM technology in mobile phones is evolving, and we are no longer limited to physical SIM cards only. An eSIM or embedded SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) allows customers to download and install a SIM in their phone digitally without physically inserting anything into the phone’s SIM compartment.
eSIM capable smartphones, including iPhone and Android phones, allow customers to download the SIM directly on an unlocked phone connected to a Wi-Fi network. eSIM can be downloaded digitally by scanning a QR code or manually entering the eSIM activation code provided by the mobile operator.
You need eSIM support from your phone and mobile operator
To download an eSIM on an iPhone or an Android smartphone, you need an unlocked mobile phone with the eSIM hardware built directly into the phone. The eSIM hardware is a chipset embedded inside the phone and can be programmed digitally to any mobile network.
In all cases, eSIM capable phones allow customers to download their eSIM using a QR code, as shown in the screenshots below. However, as a backup, customers also get the option to manually enter an activation code instead of the QR code to activate the eSIM.
While the eSIM hardware is embedded in the phone, the eSIM software that contains all the subscriber information is owned and managed by the mobile operator. So, if you want an eSIM, you need an eSIM compatible phone and a subscription from a mobile operator that supports the eSIM technology.
If you wish to go fully digital with your smartphone, you can avoid your plastic SIM entirely and rely solely on an eSIM. That way, you can free up your physical SIM slot for any temporary prepaid SIMs for emergency use or when travelling abroad. I have written a dedicated post that explains the pros and cons of using an eSIM vs a plastic SIM.
Quick guide to download and activate eSIM on your smartphone
|Phone Manufacturer||Phone Model||Instructions to download and activate your eSIM|
|Apple||iPhone SE||Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan, then scan the QR code > Add Data Plan and then follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Apple||iPad Air||Settings > Mobile Data > Add a New Plan > Other, then scan the QR code, > Add Data Plan and then follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Apple||iPhone 13||Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan, then scan the QR code, > Add Data Plan > Continue and then follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Apple||iPhone 12 Pro Max||Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan, then scan the QR code > Add Data Plan > Continue and then follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Apple||iPhone XR||Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan, then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Google Pixel 5||Locate the Settings icon > Network and Internet > SIMs > Download a SIM instead > Next, then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Google Pixel 6||Locate the Settings icon > Network and Internet > + sign next to SIMs > Download a SIM instead > Next, then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G||Locate the Settings icon > Connections > SIM card manager > Add mobile plan > Scan carrier QR code, then scan the QR code,> Confirm.|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy S20 5G||Locate the Settings icon > Connections > SIM card manager > Add mobile plan > Add using QR code, then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy Note20||Locate the Settings icon > Connections > SIM card manager > Add mobile plan > Scan carrier QR code, then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy Z||Locate the Settings icon > Connections > SIM card manager > Add mobile plan > Add using QR code, then scan the QR code, and follow the instructions on the screen.|
|Huawei||Huawei P40 Pro||Locate the Settings icon > Mobile network > SIM management > select SIM 2 > select eSIM > tap the + sign that says Add eSIM , then scan the QR code and follow the instructions on the screen.|
How to check if your phone has an eSIM?
When you buy a smartphone, the information about eSIM compatibility is available in your phone’s technical specifications. The technical specifications are generally available directly from your device manufacturer.
If you don’t have access to the technical specs, you may also use the GSMArena website, where you can find detailed specs by simply typing your phone’s model number. The SIM information is displayed under the ‘Body’ section in the specs alongside the phone’s dimensions and weight. If you already have a phone and are unsure whether it supports eSIM, you can check the eSIM capability directly on the phone.
As a general rule, you start looking for eSIM information on your phone under “Settings” and then “Mobile Network” or “Mobile Data” or “Connections” or “Network and Internet“, depending on the phone manufacturer. The Quick Guide above provides the exact instructions on where to find the eSIM information but let’s look at the examples below for iPhone XR and Google Pixel 5.
On an iPhone, you can go to Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan, which will activate your phone camera. If this happens, then your iPhone is eSIM capable. The camera is activated to allow you to scan the QR code to download the eSIM. Have a look at the screenshots below to follow this process.
On a Google Pixel phone (Android phone), you can find the eSIM information by going to Settings > Network and Internet > SIMs, which will give you the option to insert a plastic SIM or download a SIM. If you see the “Download your SIM” option, it means that your phone is eSIM capable.
How to get an eSIM and how to download it on your phone?
If you are looking for an eSIM today in the UK, you receive an “eSIM pack” from your mobile operator. The eSIM pack has a QR code that you scan when prompted by your eSIM capable phone to download the SIM.
There is also an option to enter the activation code manually to download your eSIM. When you complete the eSIM activation process, an eSIM profile is created on your phone for the associated phone number and service provider.
In order to set things up, you will need to go into your mobile phone’s Settings menu to start the set-up process. The settings are different for Android phones and iPhones. Depending on the phone manufacturer, the eSIM set-up journey can vary considerably for Android phones. Have a look at the Quick Guide above to find the instructions for your phone manufacturer.
If you have an eSIM capable phone currently using a physical SIM, you can swap your mobile phone plan from a physical SIM to an eSIM. The rules may differ depending on your mobile operator, but generally, the steps are as follows:
|1||Check with your mobile service provider (operator) or visit their website to see if they allow you to swap your existing SIM plan from a physical SIM to an eSIM.|
|2||Go to your account page on your service provider’s website or app. For example, if you are a Vodafone UK customer, you need to go to ‘My Vodafone’.|
|3||On your account page, find the section about your SIM card. If you have multiple phone numbers on your account, you need to choose the relevant SIM.|
|4||If your mobile service provider supports a swap service, you will likely see the option to perform this online. If it is not possible online, you can always call your service provider’s Customer Services team.|
|5||Whether you do it online or by speaking to Customer Services, as soon as you start the switching process, your existing physical SIM will stop functioning. Don’t worry that is perfectly normal.|
|6||The lead times may depend on your service provider, but ideally, your service provider should digitally (email) send you the QR code for the eSIM straightaway in a secure PDF file. The process may be different if you are a new customer in the UK or buying a new SIM rather than swapping an existing SIM plan.|
|7||Make sure to have another device handy (e.g. a laptop) so that you can open the document that contains the QR code on a separate screen. Having a different screen makes it easier for you to use your phone’s camera to scan the code.|
|8||Follow the steps in the Quick Guide above or the screenshots below to download the eSIM. Your phone must be connected to a Wi-Fi network so your service provider can perform all the checks before completing the eSIM activation process.|
|9||Once the eSIM has been downloaded on your phone, the rest is straightforward, and you need to follow the on-screen instructions. Have a look at the screenshots below.|
- Get hold of the QR code
- Go to Settings > Mobile Data > Add Data Plan
- Use the phone camera to scan the QR code to download the SIM. You can manually enter the activation code if you struggle to scan the QR code.
- Follow the instructions on your phone’s screen to continue with the eSIM activation.
- Get hold of the QR code.
- For a Google Pixel phone, go to Settings > Network and Internet > SIMs.
- Use the phone camera to scan the QR code to download the SIM.
- Tap “Settings” on your screen.
- Tap the “Use SIM” toggle button to activate the eSIM.
Below is the eSIM download and installation process on a Google Pixel 5 phone. You may note that the cellular connectivity signal bar only becomes active at the end of the process once the download has been completed.
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.