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ESIM vs. Physical SIM: What Is The Difference And Which Is Better?

a cell phone and sim card

Ever since cell phones emerged on the market, we have been using SIM cards to make them work. A SIM card is also known as a Subscriber Identity Module, and it acts as the brain of any given phone. Your personal information is stored on the SIM card, and it ties that information to your specific phone carrier and plan and gives you access to a cellular network.

A cell phone can operate as a piece of hardware without a SIM card, but it cannot communicate with the outside world. Your phone number is connected to your SIM card, along with a saved cache of contacts, giving you a unique identity within your cellular network as a whole.

Every phone, whether it be a flip phone or a smartphone, will only be able to access a carrier using a SIM card.

Locked vs Unlocked SIM cards

SIM cards can function slightly differently depending on whether you purchase them from a retailer or from your cell carrier. The difference is decided by whether the card is locked or unlocked.

An unlocked SIM card can be compatible with any carrier, meaning you can switch if you decide to switch providers. This is especially useful for international travel, as it makes adapting to local carriers much easier.

The resale of a phone with an unlocked SIM card is generally more profitable than the resale of a locked phone due to the extra restrictions involved. Unlocked SIMS are usually purchased from the retailer directly.

A locked SIM card is generally purchased from your carrier, and as a result, they tend to be tied specifically to your carrier. Transition is possible; however, it is much more difficult and requires communication with your carrier.

Locked phones usually come with better deals that carriers use to incentivize buying through them instead of through a retailer.

Traditional SIM cards

A traditional SIM card is a card that can be physically removed from your device. If you have multiple devices, you can usually swap a single physical SIM card between them and retain your phone number and identity on whichever one you are using at a given time.

SIM cards have a dedicated slot in your phone, and they take up a large amount of space. You can only ever use one SIM card in a phone that is compatible with traditional cards.

Traditional SIM cards are a much older form of technology, and many phones still use them as opposed to eSIM cards.

eSIM Cards

eSIM cards take up a lot less space in your phone as they are actually embedded (hence the ‘e’ in eSIM) in your device. eSIM technology makes these cards rewritable as opposed to removable, and they will never leave your phone.

Because the information is rewritable, you have the ability to switch providers without having to switch out any hardware; your existing eSIM is simply changed. You have the ability to temporarily change carriers if you need to, and it makes travel easier.

On the other hand, switching eSim devices is harder as you cannot just take your SIM card out and put it in another phone. Whichever phone is tied to your identity is set in stone unless you have it changed through your carrier.

It also means that you can’t remove your SIM from your phone at all, which is something some people like to do when they don’t want to have any hardware that can track them.

What is Dual SIM?

Another benefit of utilizing a mobile device with eSIM is the ability for dual SIM usage. A traditional phone can only fit one SIM card in it because there is usually only one slot. But with an eSIM card, you can activate two SIM cards in a single device.

With two active SIM cards, you can ostensibly have two phones, with two separate phone numbers and sets of personal information. This works well for people who use their job phone as their home phone and want to keep the two as separate as possible. In the past, you would have to get either a phone built for dual SIM or get two different devices. Now, one phone can serve the purpose of two.

It is important to note that you still need to have a separate phone plan for the second SIM, so it can be costly depending on which plans you choose for your dual SIM phone.

Which SIM Card Is Better?

eSIM cards are becoming more and more prevalent, and it is likely that they will soon become the primary form of SIM card available in the United States. That being said, there are too many benefits to a traditional SIM card for them to be completely phased out.

Traditional SIM cards give you the freedom to use whichever device you want so long as you can swap your card to it. They also let you go off the grid when you don’t want your SIM card attached to your phone.

If you do not have these interests, then eSIM will be the way to go. eSIM is the future, and the best cutting-edge phones will not always have traditional SIM compatibility. eSIM is simple to use and flexible for travel, making it less of a hassle to adapt to than traditional SIM.

It lacks the freedom of old-school SIM cards, but a majority of the population will find that its benefits outweigh the concerns.

The Bottom Line

When choosing a phone plan, make sure that you are going with one that fits the type of phone and SIM card you use. If you want to compare cell phone plans, Navi can help by analyzing your needs and finding that plan that fits your hardware best. Once you know what phone and plan you need, you can also try our free, unbiased Phone Deal Finder to make sure you are never overpaying on your latest phone.

The telecommunications market is constantly changing, and it is important to keep up with the times. As eSIM and traditional SIM cards have their ups and downs, make sure you follow the market to figure out what hardware and software are right for you.

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