Things got interesting in August when Telkom announced support for eSIM cards. This allows customers to get an eSIM on prepaid, which is a game-changer considering the two largest networks (MTN and Vodacom) only support eSIM cards for contract customers.
What is an eSIM and what are the benefits?
An eSIM card, or “embedded” SIM is a virtual SIM card. In other words, an eSIM doesn’t use a physical slot like your current nano- or micro-SIM card. This allows you to use two numbers on a single device, which is useful if you want to separate your personal and work numbers.
It also gives you access to a secondary data plan. In South Africa where data costs are exceptionally high compared to global averages, having access to another data line is necessary if you have a supporting smartphone.
With travelling opening up to vaccinated individuals, eSIMs may also be a convenient and cost-effective solution to roaming. Roaming is ridiculously expensive for South Africans, so your eSIM can be set up before you leave, depending on the network and country you’re travelling to.
Devices that support an eSIM include the iPhone XS, XR, XS Max (2018) upwards, Samsung’s Note 20 and Galaxy S20 upwards, Samsung Z Series, and Huawei’s P40 and Mate 40 range. Other devices include the Apple Watch SE and S6, Galaxy Watch 3 and 4, Watch Active 2, and some iPad models.
Next up we’ll look at the different service providers’ eSIM offerings.
Telkom offers an eSIM to any prepaid or contract customer, and it’s only for smartphones, i.e. not smartwatches. This is unfortunate if you’re an existing customer with an LTE wearable. For everyone else who wants access to an additional data plan, Telkom’s offer is a great option to consider. I got an eSIM at the launch, and much like their physical counterparts, they’re free – you just need to RICA in-store to receive the eSIM.
Vodacom’s OneNumber allows only contract customers to benefit from its eSIM. It works for wearables and smartphones, but is tied to the same number and carries a monthly subscription fee. If you have a Vodacom contract and a smartphone that supports an eSIM, consider switching to eSIM to free up your primary slot so you can leverage better data deals.
MTN allows contract customers to get an eSIM which provides access to three devices, such as smartphones, tablets and wearables. Their website states that contract customers can switch from a physical SIM to an eSIM to free up their primary slot. MTN’s offering supports Apple and Samsung.
Cell C has an offering, but we don’t know how reliable the network is after customers were migrated to MTN and Vodacom. The Ts&Cs on Cell C’s website are vague, but they do refer to eSIM enabled devices, and evidence online confirms it includes prepaid.
We know Rain was testing eSIM cards more than two years ago because Michael Jordaan tweeted about it. But the company continues to respond to customers saying it’s working on supporting devices with no solid time frame being shared. I look forward to this offering.
Ultimately, we all want cheaper data. And eSIMs are enabling this freedom of choice. It’s too early in the game for me to have tested them all. Nevertheless, both Android and Apple indicate that you can have multiple eSIM profiles on one handset, but only one can be active at a time. This is excellent news for both locals and travellers.
Technology is an ever increasing part of our lives and let’s be honest, many of us like gadgets. There is also an abundance of new online services and apps taking over the traditional services we use. Nafisa Akabor has been covering everything tech for well over a decade and she’ll be writing on how we can do tech within a budget and reviewing some of the new online services. Cache This is published on the last Tuesday of every month.