If you’ve ever gotten a new phone and transferred your service, you’re probably somewhat aware of what a SIM is. Basically, a physical SIM is a small chip that enables you to connect to your carrier’s network. Physical SIMs have been around for a while now, and are the most common type of SIM. But in recent years as wireless technology has evolved, a new way to connect to wireless networks has taken off –that’s right– we’re talking about eSIM. eSIM is a virtual SIM card that allows you to connect to a new network with just a Wi-Fi connection. No chip needed. 

In this article, we’ll break down the differences and pros and cons of eSIM vs physical SIMs so that whenever you’re ready to switch carriers (perhaps to an Ultra Mobile plan for as low as $19/month?) or just want to change phones, you’ll know what’s the difference.

what's the difference between esim vs physical sim with icons of an esim card vs a physical sim card

What’s the difference between eSIM and Physical SIM?

Traditionally, physical SIM cards have come in several different sizes from Nano, Micro or Standard. Nowadays, most modern phones have moved over to the universal (and super small) nanoSIM chip. An eSIM, short for embedded SIM, is a totally virtual programmable card that does what physical SIM cards do:  securely connects you with your network and provides access to your service so you can use your plan.

Okay, now that you’ve passed  “Intro to Physical SIM vs eSIM” with flying colors, we can get into the pros and cons of each. 

chart with the pros and cons of esim

Is eSIM better than Physical SIM?

With all the buzz eSIM has received in recent years, especially after Apple unveiled the first eSIM-only iPhone, you might be asking yourself, is eSIM better than a physical SIM? 

Well, that depends. Here’s a simple breakdown of the eSIM pros and cons so you can decide for yourself.

Pros of eSIM

There are several reasons why eSIM is becoming more popular. Below are a few reasons why you might want to consider getting an eSIM-compatible device or wireless plan:

Dual-SIM capabilities 

Some phones have dual-SIM capabilities, which means those phones are eSIM-capable and also have physical SIM capabilities. The perks to having both means you can have at least two separate lines on one phone. Some eSIM-capable phones can support up to 5 separate lines on one eSIM. Having multiple numbers on one phone might be a great option if you have a personal line and business line but don’t want to carry around multiple devices, or want a new local number but can’t quite bear to part with the number that’s been with you for a while. And a myriad of other use cases.

Faster activation process

If you’re looking to make a switch to a new wireless carrier, eSIM can definitely make for a smoother and faster activation process. Plus, if you’re switching to eSIM, you can do it electronically in minutes without having to get a paperclip or open up the guts of your phone to insert a tiny chip. 

eSIMs are even more secure

Since an eSIM is quite literally embedded in your phone, it cannot be stolen or placed in someone else’s phone or cloned as easily. eSIMs are also extremely difficult to hack thanks to additional built-in security features. So there’s that.

eSIM makes testing multiple carriers even easier

If you’re ever interested in testing out a new mobile carrier (like say one with Ultra-affordable wireless plans) but want to keep your current plan active, you can try out a new wireless plan on networks supporting eSIM. 

eSIMs make it even easier to find your phone

eSIM is definitely pro-justice. In the less-than-ideal situation of when a phone is stolen, the thief will often remove the physical SIM so that the phone’s rightful owner will be unable to track it. We hope this never happens to you, but if it ever does, you’ll be more likely to track down your phone since the thief won’t be able to remove an eSIM (because it’s permanently embedded in it). eSIM= 5. Bad guys = 0.

Cons of eSIM

At this point you might be thinking, “Wow, there are so many awesome things about eSIM” and you would be right. But there are also some eSIM cons to consider as well:

Not all networks support eSIM

Not all carriers are up to speed with the latest and greatest eSIM technology, especially with smaller MVNOs. However, the ease of use and security benefits of eSIM are likely to make it even more available in the future. 

Not all phones support eSIM

Similarly, not all phones support eSIM. More and more manufacturers are beginning to include eSIM capable devices, but it’s not quite a universal technology…yet. Even if a phone has an eSIM, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be compatible with every network. 

Fortunately, Ultra Mobile plans are eSIM-compatible as well as many of our phones available for purchase. So you can save a ton on your wireless bill and have the security of eSIM. 

Switching phones takes a bit longer

One drawback of eSIM is that if you get a new phone, you can’t just pop out a physical SIM and put it into the new phone. This means switching service from one phone to another may not be as easy as before. Switching phones with eSIM usually requires entering eSIM instructions, or installing an app. You’ll also have to deactivate your soon-to-be-old phone. Because this is done digitally, it’s still pretty darn fast, but does have a few more steps than just popping out a physical SIM from one phone and putting it into another.

chart with the pros and cons of physical sim

Pros of Physical SIM

While eSIM might be the hot new technology, there are still benefits to be had from having a physical SIM. Let’s get into it:

Ease of switching devices and staying on the same network

A physical SIM gives you access to your carrier in a simple tiny chip. This makes it extremely easy to stay connected to your network when you switch devices simply by popping in your physical SIM into your new phone. However, adding a new line via eSIM is arguably even easier as you don’t have to get into any of the hardware. See the benefits of eSIM under dual-SIM capabilities above.

Physical SIMs are the most common form of SIM

eSIM is definitely the hot new thing and has a multitude of benefits, but it does have some limitations. Most phones and networks support physical SIM technology, making it highly accessible. 

Cons of Physical SIM

Okay, onto the cons of physical SIMs:

Physical SIMs can be lost, damaged or stolen

One risk of physical SIMs is that they can get damaged, lost or stolen which also puts your connection to your network more at risk. When it comes to security, eSIM is definitely the more secure option.

Physical SIMs make it harder to switch networks

If you’re on one network and would like to switch to another, you may need to go to a physical store or get a SIM card mailed to you. This is clearly less convenient compared to downloading an app and following a few prompts (depending on your device).

eSIM vs Physical SIM: Signal Strength

In your quest to find out which is better between eSIM and pSIM (which is the same as physical SIM) you might be wondering if one has better signal strength than the other. 

The good news is that neither type of SIM is better or worse signal-wise. The factors that impact signal strength tend to be unrelated to the SIM…things like obstructions from tall buildings, deep vegetation or forestry, and device antenna quality. But again, these factors are not influenced by the type of SIM, they can impact all SIM types.

Does my phone need to be unlocked to use esim with an iphone icon and a lock in the center

Does my phone need to be unlocked to use eSIM? 

When you buy a phone from a specific carrier, many carriers will “lock” the device to that carrier until it’s been paid off. If your phone is currently locked to a specific carrier, you will not be able to use eSIM to connect to new networks. For example, you need to have a GSM-compatible unlocked device to switch and enjoy the wireless savings of Ultra Mobile. Here’s more on how to unlock your phone.

Is my phone eSIM compatible? 

With all the hype around eSIM you might be wondering “Is my phone eSIM compatible?” The easiest way to find out is to hit the button below to see if your phone is compatible with the latest in wireless technology.