Home Telecoms & NBN iPhone dual SIM is cool, but eSIM not activated until 'later this year'

If you want to use two SIMs in your new iPhone XS, XS Max or XR, then unless you have a select Chinese model with two physical SIM slots, you'll need to wait for the eSIM to go live.

In Apple's keynote presentation this morning, which I keep repeating is an absolutely must-see event (as most keynotes from major companies actually end up being), Apple noted that China doesn't allow eSIMS, so the Chinese versions will have actual dual nano-SIM capability.

However, the rest of the world will see all three new iPhones, the XR, XS and XS Max, having one nano-SIM card slot as per usual, with an eSIM inside the iPhone — the same kind of e-SIM that you have in one of today's iPads and Apple Watch Series 3 models — and it's about time, but most of us will have to wait a bit longer yet before being able to use the functionality and feature. 

I note this because of the enthusiasm of iTWire editor, Stan Beer, has expressed to buy a dual-SIM capable iPhone XR model, due in late October, but also note that he'll have to wait until Apple delivers a software update that activates the eSIM part of the dual-SIM support equation.

There are also Android handsets that have offered dual-SIM support for years, including the new Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone. 

Indeed, lest you still think you can use that dual SIM capability immediately, you cannot, yet, with Apple stating in Australia and the US, for example, that the XRXS and XS Max have a "Dual SIM (nano-SIM and eSIM)", although perhaps Chinese users can get dual-SIM support first, as you'll read further below, but first – the situation in the rest of the world.

You see, in the footnote 11 of the specs for all three phones (see the links above), it is stated that: "eSIM will be available later this year through a software update. Using eSIM requires a carrier plan, which may include restrictions on roaming and switching service providers, even after the contract has expired. Not all carriers support eSIM. Use of eSIM in iPhone may be disabled when purchasing from some carriers. See your carrier for details. To learn more, visit https://support.apple.com/kb/HT209044."

Apple's SIM card Support page is entitled: "Learn about Dual SIM with your iPhone Xs or iPhone Xs Max", and is quite detailed, showing how you set dual SIM support.

On that page, we learn: "Here are a few of the many ways you can use Dual SIM:

  • Use one number for business and another number for personal calls.
  • Add a local data plan when you travel outside of the country.
  • Have separate voice and data plans.
  • Both of your phone numbers can make and receive voice calls and send and receive SMS and MMS.* Your iPhone can use one cellular data network at a time.
  • This uses Dual SIM Dual Standby technology, which means that both SIMs can make and receive calls. If one number is on a call, incoming calls on the other number will go to voicemail.

We also see this page, which shows the carriers worldwide that support eSIMs, and sadly, none from Australia are on that list – or at least, not yet.

Indeed, these are the countries are carriers listed thus far:

Austria:
T-Mobile

Canada:
Bell

Croatia:
Hrvatski Telekom

Czech Republic:
T-Mobile

Germany:
Telekom
Vodafone

Hungary:
Magyar Telekom

India:
Airtel
Reliance Jio

Spain:
Vodafone Spain

United Kingdom:
EE

United States:
AT&T
T-Mobile USA
Verizon Wireless

Worldwide service providers:
GigSky
Truphone

So, eSIM support will come "later this year", and we can only hope that carriers in every country worldwide will support eSIM services, alongside MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), which also means pre-paid telco resellers such as Amaysim, Kogan Mobile, OVO Mobile and all the rest in Australia and worldwide.

However, in China, as noted in the keynote, eSIMs aren't allowed, so the SIM tray that allows one SIM on the top will allow another underneath.

Perhaps that is in mainland China only, however, for in Hong Kong, we can see that while the XR specs show it has the dual nano-SIM and the XS Max has dual nano-SIMS too, the Hong Kong XS has an eSIM

"Dual SIM (nano-SIM). iPhone XR is not compatible with existing micro-SIM cards."

On this HK-specific product page, we can see the disclaimer that "Dual SIM, dual standby. data and voice SIM selectable in settings. Use of Dual SIM requires two wireless service plans (which may include restrictions on roaming). Does not support simultaneous use of two CDMA wireless service plans. Dual VoLTE will be available later this year through a software update. Not all carriers support Dual VoLTE. Certain restrictions apply."

So, it seems that the only dual SIM phones that can be used with two SIMs immediately will be those in China or Hong Kong that allow two individual SIM cards to be used.

Whether these will become popular in other parts of the world and whether this will encourage more telcos to rapidly roll out eSIM support are yet to be seen.

Indeed, I am surprised to see no Australian telcos supporting eSIMs yet, but I can only imagine that it will happen soon, hopefully sooner than we expect.

And, for now, that's it. Apple has made a thing of launching products with various bits yet to come in the future, with this year's bits being eSIM support and Group FaceTime, while the Apple Watch will not get its brilliant ECG electrocardiograph technology until "later this year" in the US, and other countries will get it even later.

Even Apple's AirPower wireless charger was announced a year ago but still hasn't seen the light of day.

It's the way of life, it seems, when new products are launched on a yearly cycle, but some features by necessity take longer than that to be ready – even for a company with the size and power of Apple.

All that said, those features do end up arriving, so while we might still have to wait for the future to be widely distributed, at least we know it is already here.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

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