The new iPhone XS and XS Max will have dual SIM capabilities, with a special edition for the Chinese market that contains a SIM tray which holds two physical cards. For users outside China, however, the new iPhone devices will support eSIM. While there are many benefits to eSIM, the nascent technology hasn’t seen wide adoption yet.
Only ten countries offer eSIM support right now: Austria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, India, Spain, the UK, and the US. Sprint and smaller carriers in the US don’t offer eSIM support as of yet, meaning that customers will need to switch over to T-Mobile, Verizon, or ATT in order to enjoy that feature. Sprint told PCMag today that it will support eSIM eventually but didn’t give a specific timeframe.
% of smartphones that are dual-SIM in selected countries, 3Q17-2Q18
Source: IDC Mobile Phone Tracker, 2Q18
— Bryan Ma (@bryanbma) September 11, 2018
In China, Apple’s special dual SIM trays will bypass the need for eSIM compatibility, which China has very little of anyway. Both major carriers, China Telecom and China Mobile, have introduced eSIM support in a couple of cities, excluding Beijing. Instead, the new iPhones will have two physical SIM cards, like many Android phones do in China already. The feature will be immediately available, whereas in the rest of the world, users will need to wait for Apple to send out its eSIM software update on iOS 12 later this fall.
Electronic SIM cards eliminate the need to poke a pin through your SIM tray to swap out a physical tiny piece of plastic. Instead, eSIMs, which stands for embedded SIM cards, only need a compatible network or carrier to offer support. Both the XS and XS Max still have a physical nano SIM card slot for the second SIM support.
Apple first brought eSIM to the Apple Watch Series 3, which led to speculation that eSIM would make an appearance in iPhones. Leading to the official iPhone XS announcement, dual SIM card support was anticipated as a growth play to attract customers in markets like India, the Philippines, and China. Dual SIM card support makes traveling internationally more convenient since you can keep two numbers active at once. Developing markets have used dual SIMs to avoid roaming fees, easily swap carriers, and enjoy other benefits of having two lines active at once.
While global support for eSIM may be small now, a surge in eSIM devices could force carriers to accelerate adoption. eSIM support will make it easier for customers to switch companies directly on their phones — maybe too easily, from the perspective of carriers that fear being turned into dumb data pipes. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice began investigating ATT, Verizon, and the GSMA mobile industry group for possibly colluding to keep users from switching to eSIM devices. Now, with millions of new iPhones and Apple Watches with eSIM support about to enter the mainstream, we might see a price war as carriers battle over who can slash prices more in a bid for market share, much like when Verizon reintroduced an unlimited data plan. It’s the least we can hope for.
Update September 14th, 2:00PM ET: This article has been corrected to reflect that there are ten countries that support eSIM so far and updated with Sprint’s comment.