Every smartphone has a tiny plastic SIM card, which connects the device to a carrier’s network. SIMs can be a hassle to change and they are currently carrier specific. Now, the SIM card is finally making way for a more convenient standard, and Samsung is leading the charge. Its 3G-enabled Gear S2 Classic smartwatch is the first device to sport an electronic SIM card, or eSIM.
What’s an eSIM, exactly? It’s not something you’ll ever see, and that’s the point. It’s the internal equivalent of the familiar, rectangular widgets that slot into most modern-day smartphones. It’s essentially a tiny SIM card embedded within the device itself, but unlike the carrier-specific SIM cards you’re used to swapping from your smartphone, it’s much more capable. It’s programmable, so you can theoretically switch between carriers in the settings menu of your phone or smartwatch. Thanks to a design that dispenses with a slide-out tray, it’s up to 90 percent smaller than a traditional SIM card, according to GSMA Chief Engineer Ian Pannell in an interview with the Verge.
It’s also got the backing of big hitters in the mobile industry. The GSMA, the standards body that’s currently in the process of certifying eSIM, counts electronics behemoths Samsung, Microsoft, LG, Huawei, and others among its members. Just as importantly, a diverse lineup of carriers have already pledged to support the new standard, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom (the parent company of T-Mobile), Etisalat, Hutchinson Whampoa (the parent company of Three), Orange, Telefónica (the parent company of O2), Vodafone, and EE).
“This is the only common, interoperable and global specification that has the backing of the mobile industry and lets consumer with a mobile subscription remotely connect their devices to a mobile network,” said GSMA Chief Technology Officer Alex Sinclair in a statement. “The new specification gives consumers the freedom to remotely connect devices, such as wearables, to a mobile network of their choice and continues to evolve the process of connecting new and innovative devices”
A glaring absence from that list of full partners, you might notice, is Apple, but the association says that the company’s made contributions to the new standard. “[We are] continuing to work with Apple to secure their support for the initiative,” a spokesperson told The Financial Times in July of last year. Apple’s reticence isn’t surprising: The company infamously introduced a custom SIM solution, the so-called Apple SIM, with the LTE version of the iPad Air 2. It, like eSIM, was significantly smaller than conventional SIM cards and supported software-based carrier switching.
But unlike Apple’s technology, eSIM will soon make the jump to phones. The standard is set to be approved in June, and Samsung’s already promised its future handsets will use eSIMs. The company is launching the Gear S2 Classic 3G as a test of sorts ahead of that broader eSIM rollout.
The Gear S2 Classic 3G debuts in March. Pricing has yet to be announced.