The eSIM is finally making a splash in the US wireless market, portending a competitive landscape in which users can easily switch providers directly from their phones.
The latest evidence of this revolution is a new promotion from Visible Wireless, a Verizon subsidiary, which uses eSIM technology to let prospective customers trial its service at no charge. The embedded subscriber identity module, or eSIM for short, is digitally built into a smartphone, eliminating the need for a physical SIM card. A user can set up mobile service with a carrier on the fly without visiting a store or waiting for a SIM card to arrive in the mail.
In the Visible eSIM test drive, users who sign up for the offer receive a trial phone number for 15 days, which they can use alongside their current mobile service with their current phone number on their current eligible phone, provided the device is unlocked. Testers who later opt to sign up for regular service from Visible can keep the trial number or port in their existing number.
eSIM suits digital brands
Visible first began supporting eSIM technology in February 2021, though its use there is currently restricted to newer-model Apple devices on iOS version 14 and higher. Apple has been a driving force in encouraging industrywide adoption of the eSIM. It is widely rumored that Apple will introduce its first eSIM-only iPhones in September 2022.
The eSIM technology is an excellent fit for Visible, which debuted in May 2018 as a direct-to-consumer, app-centric, digital-only wireless brand. Visible caters to digital natives, particularly younger budget-conscious ones. Verizon is using Visible to round out its approach to the prepaid mobile market, which also includes Verizon’s own eponymous prepaid brand as well as TracFone, a traditional MVNO that Verizon acquired in November 2021.
Momentum picks up pace in wireless market
Visible’s embrace of eSIM, though logical given its market positioning, is nonetheless remarkable given industry history. In 2017, the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division initiated what became a nearly two-year investigation into claims that trade group GSMA and its mobile operator members, including Visible’s parent Verizon, had used a standard-setting process for eSIM designed to limit competition among networks. The anti-collusion investigation was dropped in November 2019 after the GSMA agreed to craft internal rules that would put eSIM on a faster track and give non-operator members more input regarding eSIM.
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Major US service providers, including Verizon, now support eSIM but generally do not aggressively promote the technology. However, T-Mobile US has incorporated eSIM into some of its marketing. During June 2021, the operator expanded its own test drive program via an eSIM-based option.
Scrappy mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) see eSIM as key to building their subscriber bases. US Mobile promotes a global eSIM platform for international travel, Mint Mobile – co-owned by actor Ryan Reynolds – initiated eSIM support in November 2020, and Red Pocket Mobile sent an email to customers earlier this month announcing it will begin supporting eSIM in 2022.