What's an iSIM & How is It Different From an eSIM? | Screen Rant

One of the lesser-known features of Qualcomm's new mobile processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, is support for an integrated SIM card (iSIM). Technically, phones powered by the processor should connect to a mobile network without a removable SIM card. Thus, an iSIM can be similar to an embedded SIM (eSIM), which can be found in several smartphones and wearables. However, while both an iSIM and eSIM have similar functions, there are some notable differences.

Most phones these days have at least one physical SIM card slot for a nano-sized SIM card. The nano-SIM card has existed for years and is an evolution of the Mini-SIM and Micro-SIM card. Then came the eSIM, a chip smaller than a nano-SIM but soldered onto the printed circuit board that allows the device to connect to a mobile network. By downloading a SIM profile, the eSIM can be configured to work with a network operator in minutes. Users can even have multiple SIM profiles they can switch between. Unfortunately, the adoption of the eSIM has been very slow. Several manufacturers still make phones that don't have support for an eSIM and those that do limit it to their high-end models. There are also a lot of mobile operators who are not on board the eSIM train yet. The area where the eSIM has received wider adoption is in the wearable space as smartwatches such as the Apple Watch have an LTE variant that uses an eSIM.

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The iSIM was announced in 2018 by Arm as a secure identity solution that replaces a physical SIM card and an eSIM. Billions of devices are already connected to the internet, and there will be more, including small-sized IoT devices. An iSIM is supposed to make it easier to connect these devices to the internet as it eliminates not only the cost of issuing physical SIMs but the cost of deploying them and the need for physical access when there is a need to change the mobile network operator. And with an iSIM, it is easier to connect IoT devices with a smaller footprint that don't have space for a physical SIM card. Also, while an eSIM takes up less space than a nano-SIM, an iSIM is much smaller since it is integrated into the device's processor. This allows manufacturers to use the additional space that would have been occupied by a SIM tray or eSIM for other components or even a bigger battery. Furthermore, without the need for a physical SIM card, a device with an iSIM (or eSIM) can be easily designed to be water-resistant.

The iSIM brings the benefits associated with an eSIM, such as savings on space and cost for device manufacturers, the ease of deployment for network operators, and easy switching between multiple SIM profiles for users. However, a significant difference from an eSIM, which can also be termed its biggest advantage, is the security it offers. By integrating the SIM with the system-on-chip (SoC), the SIM is protected from being tampered with as it runs on a secure enclave built into the chipset. And since an iSIM can't be removed, it makes it harder to steal a smartphone that has one.

iSIMs are mainly designed for IoT devices as it allows manufacturers to add cellular connectivity to these devices, but as we can see, smartphones can benefit from the advantages it brings. Unfortunately, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 appears to be the only mobile platform with support for an iSIM, so the adoption rate may even be slower than that of the eSIM.

NEXT: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Vs. A15 Bionic: How Qualcomm's New Chip Compares

Source: Arm, Qualcomm

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