What is an eSIM?

Even the humble SIM card has been caught up in the digital revolution, which has seen the rise of the eSIM.

January 09, 2022
4 min read

A lower-case ‘e’ is a powerful prefix. It’s heralded the shift from physical mail to digital email and paperback books to electronic libraries. Even the popularity of real-world sports has been matched by the rapid rise of esports. And now the physical SIM card is under threat from the eSIM.

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is a digital SIM card. In terms of the physical SIM vs eSIM debate, the former is a card that must be correctly inserted into your phone before you can use a smartphone’s cellular capabilities, while the latter doesn’t have a physical component. To configure an eSIM, you usually download an app or scan a QR code.

Outside of not having to physically insert or remove a SIM card, the big benefit of an eSIM is that you can technically shift telcos instantly, as long as the new telco supports eSIMs. This effectively eliminates downtime between plan swaps. The other benefit of an eSIM is it frees your smartphone’s physical SIM card slot for another SIM, converting your phone into a makeshift dual-SIM handset. Finally, eSIMs also let you share the same mobile number between a smartphone and compatible smartwatches, including the Apple Watch and certain Samsung smartwatches.

Before we start, here's a quick look at some of the most popular eSIM-compatible mobile plans in Australia. 

Which Australian telcos offer eSIMs?

While we track more than 30 Australian telcos in our comparison engine, only four of them currently support eSIMs. Outside of the three main network holders—Telstra, Optus and Vodafone—the only MVNO outlier is Gomo, which makes sense given it’s a digital-only telco owned by Optus. While some providers like Aldi Mobile say they may introduce eSIM support in the future, TPG is the only one from our database to state that eSIM (and 5G via the Vodafone 5G network) compatibility is coming.

It's worth adding that the three big telcos offer different levels of support for eSIMs. For instance, Optus supports eSIMs for compatible smartphones and wearables. Vodafone also supports these devices but adds tablets to the mix, while Telstra supports all three alongside compatible Windows PCs. If you’re eager to travel with an eSIM, you can look into providers like Truphone, Airalo, GigSky or KnowRoaming. Note that while Optus, Vodafone and Telstra support global roaming with an eSIM on smartphones, that support doesn’t extend to wearables.

To switch to an eSIM, reach out to Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or Gomo for a new service or to request a transfer from a physical SIM card to an eSIM.

eSIM mobile plans

All regular SIM Only, Prepaid and Telstra Upfront plans are compatible with eSIMs, so below is a breakdown of popular picks from eSIM-providing telcos.

eSIM-compatible phones and other devices

While there are hundreds of SIM card-compatible smartphones to choose from, that list shrinks considerably when it comes to eSIM-compatible phones and other devices. The table below outlines eSIM-compatible smartphones, tablets, wearables and Windows PCs.

Android
iPhone
iPad
Wearables
Windows PC
Google Pixel 3aiPhone XRiPad mini (5th gen)Apple Watch Series 3Surface Pro X
Google Pixel 3a XLiPhone XSiPad (7th, 8th gen)Apple Watch Series 4Surface Pro (5th Gen) with LTE Advanced
Google Pixel 4iPhone XS MaxiPad Air (3rd, 4th gen)Apple Watch Series 5Surface Pro 7+ for Business
Google Pixel 4 XLiPhone 1111‑inch iPad Pro (1st, 2nd, 3rd gen)Apple Watch Series 6HP Spectre Folio
Google Pixel 4a (4G and 5G)iPhone 11 Pro12.9‑inch iPad Pro (3rd, 4th, 5th gen)Apple Watch SEHP Spectre x360 4G LTE
Google Pixel 5iPhone 11 Pro MaxSamsung Galaxy Watch
Google Pixel 6iPhone SE (2nd gen)Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Google Pixel 6 ProiPhone 12Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Motorola Razr (2019)iPhone 12 MiniSamsung Galaxy Watch 4
Samsung Galaxy FoldiPhone 12 Pro
Samsung Galaxy Z FlipiPhone 12 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S20iPhone 13
Samsung Galaxy S20+iPhone 13 Mini
Samsung Galaxy S20 UltraiPhone 13 Pro
Samsung Galaxy S21iPhone 13 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S21+
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 5G
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

With eSIM wearables, you’ll need to have the LTE variant (where applicable). Because these devices are dependent on a smartphone’s mobile number, it also means you have to buy a plan add-on from the same network provider. You can’t, say, have a Telstra mobile plan paired with an Optus wearable plan. The telco-specific terms you’re looking for are One Number for Telstra, Number Share for Optus and NumberSync for Vodafone, each of which should cost $5 extra per month.

Telstra eSIM setup

Follow these steps to configure an eSIM with Telstra:

  • Ensure your eSIM-compatible device is connected to WiFi.
  • Use your device’s camera to scan the QR code on your Telstra eSIM Card. Now follow the prompts to complete setup.
  • Alternatively, iOS users can go to Settings, then Mobile and ‘Add Mobile Plan’. Scan the QR code on the Telstra eSIM Card here and follow the steps.
  • Android users can also manually configure their Telstra eSIM by going to Settings, ‘Network & Internet’ and then ‘Mobile Network’. Scan the QR code found on the Telstra eSIM Card, then follow the prompts.
  • If it’s not already activated, activate your Telstra eSIM and you’re good to go.

Optus eSIM setup

Follow these steps to configure an eSIM with Optus (which, once completed, takes between 15 minutes and four hours to get connected):

  • Ensure your eSIM-compatible device is connected to WiFi.
  • Install the My Optus app and log in. Select ‘More’ from the menu, then eSIM and ‘Set up my eSIM’.
  • Follow the instructions, then select ‘Download eSIM’, ‘Confirm’, ‘Add Mobile Plan’ and tap ‘Continue’ to download your eSIM.
  • Restart the device to activate the service (or activate then deactivate flight mode).
  • Alternatively, scan the Optus-provided QR code with your device’s camera and follow the link.

Vodafone eSIM setup

Follow these steps to configure an eSIM with Vodafone:

  • Ensure your eSIM-compatible device is connected to WiFi.
  • Before you start on the steps below, have your eSIM-compatible device, eSIM QR code and four-digit eSIM Confirmation Code on hand.
  • On an Apple device, go to ‘Settings’, ‘Mobile’ or ‘Mobile Data’, then select ‘Add Mobile Plan’ or ‘Add Data Plan’ to launch a QR code reader.
  • Scan the QR code and press the ‘Enter Details Manually’ link, then enter the requested details.
  • On a Google device, go to ‘Settings, ‘Network & Internet’, then select the ‘+’ symbol next to ‘Mobile network’. Select ‘Don’t have a SIM card?’ or ‘Download SIM instead’, then select ‘Next’. Choose whether you want to ‘Use 2 numbers’ on the next screen to launch the QR code reader. Note that if you opt to use a physical SIM card and an eSIM, you’ll have to restart the device and repeat these steps.
  • Scan the QR code and press the ‘Need help?’ link, then ‘Enter it manually’. Enter the following activation code: LPA:1$SM-DP+ Address$Activation Code
  • On a Samsung device, go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Connections’ and select ‘SIM card manager’. Then select ‘Add mobile plan’ followed by ‘Add using QR code’ to launch the QR code reader.
  • Scan the QR code, then go to ‘Settings’, ‘Connections’, ‘SIM card manager’, ‘Add mobile plan’, then ‘Add using activation code’. Enter the following activation code: LPA:1$SM-DP+ Address$Activation Code
  • Regardless of the device, now enter your four-digit eSIM Confirmation Code.

Gomo eSIM setup

Follow these steps to configure an eSIM with Gomo:

  • Ensure your eSIM-compatible device is connected to WiFi.
  • Download the Gomo app, then follow the activation prompts.
  • Choose your number (your existing one or a new one) to get connected.
  • Note that Optus customers transferring to Gomo should use the ‘Need Help?’ option in the Gomo app to switch.
  • Similarly, Gomo customers on a physical SIM card should use the ‘Need Help?’ option in the Gomo app to request a swap to an eSIM.
  • ‘Get Help?’ is also what you use to move your eSIM from one device to another with Gomo.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence has been banging out passionate tech and gaming words for more than 11 years. These days, you can find his work on outlets like IGN, STACK, Fandom, Red Bull and AusGamers. Nathan adores PC gaming and the proof of his first-person-shooter prowess is at the top of a Battlefield V scoreboard.

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