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eSIMs 101: Do you need the internet to use an eSIM?

It's a yes and no.

· 4 min read

In today's digital age, mobile connectivity plays a vital role in our daily lives. With the rapid advancements in technology, the introduction of eSIMs has revolutionized the way we use our smartphones. If you are venturing into the world of eSIMs, perhaps you might have some questions about how eSIMs works and any prerequisites for it to work. Given an eSIM is embedded within your device, a question that you might have is whether you need to be connected to the internet for your eSIM to work.

woman looking at phone

What is an eSIM?

Before we answer the question of whether you need to be connected to the internet for eSIMs to work, let's first understand what an eSIM is. An eSIM, or embedded SIM, is a tiny chip embedded within a device that serves the same purpose as a traditional physical SIM card. The key difference between an eSIM and a traditional physical SIM card is really just the fact that it isn't a physical card; and because it is built into the device itself, it can be configured to hold multiple profiles and can be remotely activated.

Do you need Internet Connectivity for eSIMs to work?

If an eSIM is supposed to work like a traditional SIM card, then you shouldn't need internet connectivity for it to work right? But at the same time, if an eSIM can be remotely activated, surely it requires internet connectivity?

If you have considered both questions before, and are trying to figure out if internet connectivity is actually needed for eSIMs to work, you are on the right track. Both questions are valid questions, and really, the answer to both these questions are yes, that's right. Let's break it down further.

Installation and Activation

The internet plays a crucial role in the installation and activation of eSIMs. As eSIMs rely on remote activation and provisioning, a stable internet connection is required for the initial setup of your eSIM or for subsequent changes in service providers.

When installing an eSIM, the device needs to connect to the internet to download the necessary service provider profile. This profile contains the necessary information, such as network access credentials and authentication keys, to establish a connection with the service provider's network. This process ensures that the eSIM is configured correctly and can connect to the network seamlessly.

Furthermore, the internet is also essential for managing multiple service provider profiles on an eSIM. Users can remotely add or remove service provider profiles by connecting to the internet and accessing the device's eSIM management interface. Similarly, internet connectivity is required for over-the-air updates of eSIM profiles. Service providers can remotely update the eSIM profiles on devices to ensure optimal network connectivity, security, and performance. These updates can include bug fixes, security patches, and even new features, enhancing the overall user experience.

Beyond initial installation and activation

While an internet connection is required during the initial activation process and for managing different service provider profiles, it is not a necessity for day-to-day usage. Once the profile is downloaded and stored on the eSIM, the device can function independently of an internet connection. The eSIM chip securely stores the profile, allowing the device to connect to the chosen network without relying on an internet connection.

In fact, just like how a physical SIM helps you to establish mobile data connectivity with your network operator, an eSIM does the same! It wouldn't be make such sense if something that was meant to help you get connected requires you to first be connected to the internet, would it? Of course, though, for you to be able to get mobile connectivity with your eSIM, your plan with your network provider will need to include data.

Do I need internet to manage my eSIMs?

So we have now established that you will need to be connected to the internet for the initial set-up of your eSIM, but not for the day-to-day use. Now, what if you just wanted to manage your eSIMs — so, things like renaming them, switching between eSIMs, or deleting eSIM profiles?

Managing your eSIM is primarily a device setting, and like most device settings, you wouldn't need an Internet connection for that. As long as you have your eSIM profiles installed, you will be able to carry out functions like renaming and switching between eSIM profiles even if you did not have an active internet connection. However, you wouldn't be able to download and activate new profiles.

If you want to delete your eSIM profile, you can also do so without being connected to the internet. However, be careful when deleting your eSIM profile as it is might not be possible (and if it is possible, probably troublesome) to restore it after it has been deleted — you will likely need to contact your network operator for help.

eSIM vs Traditional SIM: The Differences

Now that we've covered the internet requirements of eSIMs, let's compare them to traditional SIM cards to highlight the differences in terms of internet dependency.

When it comes to the internet dependency of traditional SIM cards, there are some notable distinctions. With traditional SIM cards, an internet connection is not necessary for initial activation. Instead, they rely on physical contact with the device's SIM card slot. This means that you can activate a traditional SIM card without needing an internet connection. Traditional SIMs act as an authentication token, allowing the device to connect to the chosen network. Once activated, traditional SIM cards can operate without an internet connection.

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, eSIMs require an internet connection for initial installation. This means that you need an internet connection to set up an eSIM on your device. Additionally, if you decide to port-over your line to a different service provider, you will need an internet connection to make that transition smoothly.

However, it's important to note that once both eSIMs and traditional SIM cards are activated, they can function without an internet connection. This means that you can make calls, send text messages, and use other non-internet-dependent features on your device using either type of SIM card.