Overview of eSIM
eSIM is a next generation of Subscriber Identity Module and stands for "embedded SIM". It's a tiny chip designed to be built in a wide range of devices including consumer smartphones. Unlike traditional SIM cards, eSIM allows users to switch network carrier profiles remotely without having to switch out your SIM card from one place to another. Because of this flexibility of switching carriers, it's easy to imagine that this is a game-changer for travelers wanting to use mobile internet in different countries. As long as your phone has an eSIM, you no longer need to purchase a local SIM card to use mobile internet at the local rate.
eSIM is standardized by GSMA (GSM Association), a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, and they have been working on specifications for the eSIM to make it work globally with any mobile network service provider.
Which Phones Support eSIM?
Currently, iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR are the only phones that support eSIM (except ones sold in mainland China. Also, in Hong Kong and Macau, only iPhone XS features eSIM).
The new iPad Pro also supports eSIM.
Google Pixel 3 is believed to support eSIM but it's currently hidden by OS, and therefore cannot be accessed. eSIM will be available in those phones with future OS updates.
How To Use eSIM on iPhone
There are two ways to use it:
Option 1. Scan a QR code
Go to Settings > Cellular, Tap "Add Cellular Plan" and it launches the Camera app. From there you will scan the QR code which you receive from the carrier.
(You could also enter the Activation code manually but this option is not recommended for normal users.)
Option 2. Use carrier's app
Download carrier of choice's app from App Store and follow the instruction to purchase a data plan from the network carrier.
How To Use eSIM in Japan
Although more and more carriers support eSIM, few of them provide data plans for Japan. Also all of the ones who do provide data use roaming networks, as currently none of the Japanese mobile network providers offer data plans for eSIM.
[Disclosure] eConnect Japan is working hard to provide prepaid data plans for eSIM for travelers coming to Japan! We are planning to make it available in Spring 2019.
Gigsky is a mobile technology company from California which offers international travelers SIM card based services. Their data prices for Asia are quite expensive unless you buy large data bundles.
300MB / 1 day = $10
500MB / 15 days = $15
1GB / 15 days = $20
2GB / 15 days = $30
5GB / 30 days = $50
Their plan allows to use data in up to 21 countries including Japan, mainland China, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, etc..
3HK, a Hong Kong based telecommunication services provider, is also selling eSIM plans.
Their price is fairly reasonable.
10 day pass = HK$138
There is no specific data limit shown on their website but it comes with fair usage policy and the speed actually gets throttled if you use more than 500MB a day.
Their website asks for a phone number but it looks any phone number would work and the QR code will be sent to the email address.
You get to use data in 20 countries including Japan, USA, Canada, UK, Thailand, Philippines, France, Denmark, Sweden, China, Taiwan, etc..
The next company we took a look at is called Truephone, a global mobile communications company with headquarters based in London. Their prices are a tad more expensive than the two above.
300MB / 1 day = £6
1GB / 30 days = £15
3GB / 30 days = £42
Their global data plan can be used in 80 countries as shown on the map in the screenshot above.
Note that you will need to use their mobile app which is available for download in 32 App Stores.
Because of how recent the developments are in regard to the eSIM, this is just a snapshot of the information yet to come. We will continue to report on and add carriers/options to this list when they become available.
Stay tuned for more on this exciting new technology!