Thursday, September 15, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

eSIM and iPhone 14

Glenn Fleishman:

Apple has gone all in on the eSIM (embedded SIM), a programmable internal version of the SIM (subscriber identity module) card used to ID your phone to cellular networks. With the U.S. models of its iPhone 14 series, Apple has gotten rid of a physical slot for the SIM card. But it also continues to expand eSIM flexibility on other iPhone models and iPads.

[…]

While an eSIM is programmable and handled entirely digitally, it has no effect on whether a phone or tablet that incorporates the technology is locked or unlocked by the carrier on whose network you’re using your device.

[…]

You once had to swap a hardware SIM out when traveling to another country. With an eSIM, you can still add a second plan for outside your area. When you return home, you just deactivate the eSIM. However, there are some countries that have not adopted eSIM yet, and an eSIM-only iPhone 14 or later model may not work for you in some countries or for your preferred carriers there.

Casey Liss:

So, in order to hopefully get ahead of the game for next week, I decided to try to convert my physical SIM to an eSIM. As it turns out, this process wasn’t particularly difficult, but I figured it’d be worth documenting for others.

[…]

After I did my transfer, I noticed that iMessages were suddenly being sent and received as text messages. This may have been user error on my part, but it seems that my iMessage settings were altered such that my phone number was no longer a valid iMessage address for me.

If you do the above, it’s probably worth verifying your settings.

John Gordon:

Apple put a lot of work into dual eSIM support. Here the dual status bar. Sure feels like they are going to do an Apple network.

Joe Rossignol:

Amid criticism from some customers regarding the removal of the SIM card tray on all iPhone 14 models sold in the United States, Apple today published a new support document outlining various "options and benefits" for using eSIMs while traveling abroad.

[…]

In his iPhone 14 Pro camera review, travel photographer Austin Mann said he was "a bit concerned about the practicality of an eSIM-only approach for travelers with US iPhones who frequently visit the developing world," adding that he usually purchases a local SIM card in countries where he travels to so that it is easier and cheaper to communicate with people within the country. Mann said he would be thrilled to toss out his collection of physical SIM cards, but said he has been unable to figure out how to sign up for an eSIM line in East Africa, where he plans to travel to next summer.

Previously:

Update (2022-09-22): Joe Rossignol (via Josh Centers):

Repair website iFixit today shared an in-depth teardown of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, providing a closer look at the device’s internals. Notably, the teardown includes a photo of the plastic spacer that replaced the SIM card tray on the U.S. model.

All four iPhone 14 models sold in the U.S. no longer have a physical SIM card tray and rely entirely on digital eSIMs. The teardown confirms that Apple is not using the internal space freed up by the tray’s removal for any other component or added functionality, and instead filled in the gap with a square piece of plastic. Outside of the U.S., all iPhone 14 models are still equipped with a SIM card tray in this space.

The empty space is surprisingly large.

Update (2022-09-26): Francisco Tolmasky:

OK, so this eSIM thing of course didn’t work. I’ve tried transferring it from my old phone by doing the “Add eSIM” thing, but after entering the code it shows, nothing happens. My old phone still gets texts, etc.

5 Comments

I did the eSIM process a few years ago, when the iPhone X (I think?) first got eSIM support. Since then I've gone back-and-forth on whether my primary SIM is a physical or eSIM.

The process of converting to an eSIM has, for me at least, always been quite easy. But it's the carrier's end (AT&T for me) of swapping phones that was problematic. Twice I needed to go to the AT&T store, and one year, the guy said "Do you want a regular SIM, it's easier?" and I swapped back... Here's hoping things have improved since then, but I'm skeptical, as much as I really do like the eSIM idea.

The devil with eSIM will be indeed in the unforeseen details.

To name but one example I know well, Orange in France has supported eSIM since day one. However, should your phone be lost or stolen, there is currently no way to restore your eSIM: for “security reasons,” Orange will only send you a physical SIM to your registered address (the one that appears on your passport or ID card), which you must activate manually before converting it again to eSIM. (The corresponding fees are apparently waived, but certainly neither the inconvenience nor the delay.)

Oh, and an eSIM can only be requested when ① using 3G or 4G ② on Orange France’s own cellular network. In other words, if you live abroad or lose your SIM during an extended trip you are toast until you return to France. The previously inconvenient but plausible escape hatch of asking a friend to re-address the card to you has just evaporated.

No doubt these antiquated processes will ultimately be changed, but a lot of cell phone security in Europe still revolves around physical mail. Posting SIM cards introduces an infuriating delay, but it does make SIM swapping attacks a lot more difficult. By forcing a move to eSIM, Apple is unwittingly making SIM swapping attacks a lot easier (since we all know phone companies have no interest in beefing up their authentication flows). They are also making it near-impossible for certain users to use iPhones.

This will affect a small group of users very badly indeed. As always, though, too few users for anybody to care. Progress marches on, its victims unheard and unheeded.

My wife and I live in the US but travel often to the UK, where we use a pay-as-you-go plan from EE (it wouldn't make sense for us to be on pay-monthly given we're not there for extended periods).

But to the best of my knowledge none of the UK carriers support eSIM on PAYG plans, only contract plans. And while we could get a data-only eSIM we need to have voice while there. The support document Apple released lists carriers that support eSIM but none are PAYG.

So this is a disappointing regression for us that will keep us from upgrading to an eSIM-only phone, at least until the carrier situation changes... we even looked at the possibility of getting a Canadian iPhone (which *does* retain the physical SIM slot), but the cellular bands are slightly different between the Canadian and US models.

While I'm on one level glad that Apple is pushing the industry forward by forcing eSIM support, I'm happy Canadian iPhones will still have a SIM slot for the time being, because being on the leading edge of this transition is going to be painful.

The way eSIMs are currently handled by most Canadian carriers:

- There's no support for the "convert to eSIM" or "transfer eSIM" features
- Instead, you have to buy from your carrier (for $5-$20) a physical "eSIM card", like a credit card piece of plastic with a QR code printed on it, and scan that
- Most of them don't even sell these eSIM cards on their websites: you _have_ to go to a retail location in person to purchase one
- Then there's some online process for transferring your account to from the previous SIM/eSIM to the new eSIM

And because they're not supporting eSIM transfers, you have to pay for this each time you switch phones. (Although rumour has it that Apple Stores have a stock of these eSIM cards for each carrier, and will include one for free if you buy an iPhone in person.)

Contrast that with a physical SIM where I can just switch it from an old phone to a new one, pay nothing, and no one cares.

When I needed to get my iPhone 8 repaired, I did a mail in process where I sent it in first. (to avoid the deposit hold)

I took the SIM out and put it in my old 5c and used that for a few days until the replacement phone came in.

This was seamless and easy, and also impossible to do with eSIM.

I wonder if they will still have a few SIM tray iPhone 14's in the back for customers that want them. I would not want a crippled iPhone 14 knowing that every other country was getting non-crippled ones.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment