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Arrival of eSIM Fuels More Mobile Switching by UK Consumers

Wednesday, Jul 26th, 2023 (8:40 am) - Score 14,416

New data from mobile benchmarking firm Opensignal has revealed that the gradual, and not always particularly smooth, adoption of Embedded Subscriber Identity Modules (eSIM) by UK mobile network operators and related Smartphones is starting to deliver a clear and significant improvement in consumer switching.

The eSIM standard is an alternative to physical SIM cards, which essentially embeds an electronic SIM into your device (Smartphone) and that could – once fully implemented – make it easier and quicker to switch between operators (e.g. not having to wait for a SIM card to arrive), as well as to use additional networks alongside your main mobile operator (e.g. eSIMs for travel when abroad).

However, it’s also fair to say that getting eSIMs into the mainstream has been a bit of a choppy experience, with issues of patchy support via different devices and some operators being much slower than others to fully introduce the feature. But progress has been made and the extra simplicity that a properly implemented eSIM solution can bring to considers is not to be understated.

The latest data from Opensignal shows that the introduction of eSIMs into the UK market, as well as that of other countries, is altering how consumers switch between mobile operators and encouraging operators to adopt new tactics to retain and acquire users (e.g. some operators are offering network trials from within an app that provisions an eSIM immediately).

According to the data, eSIM users switch mobile operators more frequently and NOT by a small margin. Overall, Opensignal’s crowdsourced data reveals that around 6% of all mobile users (any SIM type) switched mobile operator SIM cards or eSIM profiles during Q1 2023, but when this is filtered to only look at eSIM-activated devices (i.e. the eSIM is actually being used) then it surges to 24.1%.

Opensignal eSim impact on UK mobile switching

Singapore is a small country, and one that stands out above as having an almost absurdly high proportion of switching. But the country is also a major international transit and trading destination, where travellers are a high proportion of users. This may help to explain why there’s so much switching going on in that market.

The data more broadly also shows that eSIM technology is finding particular appeal among dual-SIM users (e.g. often those who travel or use one device for home and business), and is further driving the adoption of dual-SIM usage in a number of markets where the usage was previously limited or non-existent. For example, the UK is home to 12.4% of Dual-SIM users with an activated eSIM on their device, and that increased by 30% between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023.

Take note that the above analysis was limited to domestic users – defined as users that used a domestic operator’s SIM card (MNO or MVNO) at any period during the cited quarter. Devices that have entered the market and stayed on international roaming are excluded from the analysis.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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26 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    I bought an eSim from Lyca mobile for £5 for 20GB data, because o2 and Three (smarty) were both hot garbage in Leeds. Setup within minutes and I was back to having usable mobile data again

    1. Avatar photo donttalkrubbish says:

      My hot garbage gets me 400mbps on Smarty in Leeds – maybe your phone was/is hot garbage? 🙂

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Smarty seems a bit sluggish today for some reason, but normally it is pretty good, i am never going to get super-duper high speeds, because i don’t have a 5G phone and 5G is not great here anyway if it is available at all.
      But it is fine for me. Still don;t see the need for these super duper speeds on a mobile phone. I can understand it maybe on a tablet or maybe if you tether a laptop to your phone.

    3. Avatar photo Mark says:

      How has your experience been with them? Now they use EE I am tempted to switch as they have esim, I can use them and have another providers SIM card in my iPhone then. Currently I’m on 1P Mobile which is alright but lacks an app or esim.

    4. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

      Only place in Leeds I can’t use smarty is by the town hall and in trinity. Works 10/10 everywhere else for me.

  2. Avatar photo Kushan says:

    Took a trip to Mexico last year where roaming wasn’t available for my provider, but used an eSIM provider for some easy data while there and it worked a treat. It really is the future.

    Now if only more providers supported it in the UK!

    1. Avatar photo Adrian says:

      I’m on Vodafone and the eSIM experience has been mostly positive even though they were on the phone in the shop to head office to find out how to do it.

      O2 were rubbish saying it was for iPhone only even though I have a Samsung S22

      As for Singapore the last time I was there was in 2016 and I couldn’t get roaming there on my package and the main mobile provider was Singtel who were apparently horribly expensive so if there are challenger companies coming in with better deals it could see the high switch rate.

    2. Avatar photo Tom says:

      Think you looked in the wrong place in Singapore for a SIM card if you thought it was expensive, they have some really low rates on prepaid including a lot of intro offers. I paid something like S$5 for a week on M1 and got something like 8GB, and this was back in 2016.

  3. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    I travel a lot with work, US, EU, Asia – and local eSims are amazing – and although I can charge back to the company, I like to do it the cheapest way possible.

    Orange Poland esim I think was 80gb for under £10 a month + included 6 or 7gb data throughout the EU. (Vodafone £2.25 / day), I was in the EU 3 weeks a month so it saved a massive amount on roaming charges. (Voda would have been ~ £135 in roaming fees over the project, Orange I paid less than £35 (first month was 1zl, or 20p).

    T-Mobile USA I’ve used a totally free trial, which I just had to provide a US phone number – I went onto one of those ‘virtual number apps’ and used the one from that. I didn’t even look what vodafone wanted for roaming.

    And for Asia I used a Nomad esim, which was £2 or so per GB (Vodafone wanted £6 a day) – i think this was expensive compared to local offerings but probably saved £20 vs vodafone for the sake of downloading an esim and handing over my card details.

    My usage is light – I typically preload google maps, download spotify playlists, so i make the occasional short teams call, I usually save video streaming or anything intensive for hotel rooms with wifi, or use the customers wifi when on site.

  4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    I got an eSIM as soon as I moved to EE (for me it was the main reason to give up the BT Mobile account) and it has been pretty seamless. Only flaw was when I changed phones a few months ago, which necessitated a new eSIM and VoLTE / wifi calling stopped working. I was eventually told it was a known fault with new eSIMs and it did indeed start working later on.

    Can get a new eSIM at any time through the app/website and it seems to be free too.

    I would still want to ensure that physical SIMs are always an option though (and perhaps network operators should let you keep your physical SIM as a spare to reactivate if you need to, I believe O2 does but EE does not).

  5. Avatar photo AndyK says:

    I went straight onto an eSIM on O2 as soon as I had a compatible phone. Rubbish process because it’s only possible in store or by calling customer services, which is ridiculous but I got there. The only thing that worries me is how difficult O2 will make it if I need to unexpectedly change phone, but other providers are much better in offering apps/portals that work properly.

    Nowadays I think I’ll be prioritising eSIM providers because it really does make for a significantly better experience when done properly. I just wish they’d get on with it and have all providers offer them as an option!

  6. Avatar photo Me says:

    Esim is an area the UK operators severely lack in, the main 4 support it but the vast majority of MVNO’s do not, and all their official stances seem to be are, not something we plan but may look into it in the future. I think esim should be mandatory along with physical sim’s, you just choose which you want at sign up.

    1. Avatar photo Me says:

      I should add the system of setting up esim’s is a joke with most operators, the idea is you do it yourself with ease on your phone, not have to visit a store. Buy an esim pack and then have the staff call head office to talk them through setting it up, because they haven’t been trained properly! That is the complete opposite of what the esim experience is meant to be.

  7. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    My phone don’t support esim, and I am not bothered, it makes no difference to me, the sim is in the phone and stay in there I don’t see it. If I want to change my provider, I get another sim, what is so difficult about that?

    The one problem I do have with esim is if I needed to put another SIM in my phone for any reason, I would be stumped. I think it will be a few more years before esims are in the phones i will buy.

    1. Avatar photo Connor says:

      eSIMs actually quite well for that since you have multiple in storage and chose which one to use.

      Though I will say I prefer having my main SIM physical just in case. I don’t wanna be faffing with network operators and QR codes if I suddenly need to put my SIM in another phone (battery died, sudden failure, etc)

  8. Avatar photo Time says:

    I prefer physical SIM. I can easily switch phones/router/dongle/laptop/equipment as and when needed. e.g I use a big screen phone sometimes and then switch to a smaller screen phone later on or other equipment as & when needed.

  9. Avatar photo Obi says:

    Just shows ESims potential, get a PAC & QR, switch in 10 mins. Also more secure, but that’s because thieves can’t just bin the SIM.

    Where Ofcom needs to intervene is esims between iOS & Android, absolute mess of a process. You don’t hear about it because tech reviewers are Apple fanboys, and this is coming from an iPhone user.

  10. Avatar photo Andrew says:


    Don’t get me wrong, it works, but not fully…. at my workplace – connected to the wellington street mast, I get 3mb/s, on Smarty and O2…

    Smarty at Lovell park gets 600-700mbps 5G, so it depends where you are

  11. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    I converted my O2 sim to eSIM.
    Then I had the horrible realisation that I’d been a fool and I now couldn’t put the SIM into my 5G modem. Swapped back to a physical one. The other problem is that I have a couple of eSIMs now on my phone and i’m looking to upgrade the phone. Apple lets you transfer eSIMs. Android does not. Despite saying last year that they were going to add this facility, it still has not arrived.

    1. Avatar photo Acdeag says:

      Transferring of esims between phones also needs to be network supported, EE support it O2 do not for example.

  12. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

    Does this not make slamming even more of a problem?

  13. Avatar photo Raj says:

    Well, it’s not like the networks have a choice. The iPhone 16 is confirmed to be eSIM only (no physical SIM card slot).

    That’s the reason why MVNOs are scrambling to get eSIM support rolled out. They HAVE to have it ready in time or their iPhones will be unsellable.

    Issuing eSIMs is the easy bit. The hard part is performing SIM swaps. The networks have to overhaul their procedures to make them eSIM ready.

    1. Avatar photo Tom says:

      Highly doubt iPhone 16 will be eSIM only as there are numerous European countries with no domestic eSIM providers at all.

      The US iPhone without a SIM tray already just has a plastic block where the SIM would be, whilst Apple is not shy to regional varients I somewhat doubt they would make a UK varient with no SIM tray when various European versions would need one.

      And despite all this there will always be an iPhone with a SIM card slot unless China changes it’s mind on eSIM.

  14. Avatar photo Ryan Ramenatte says:

    I had Virgin Media and part of that was part of the E-SIM roll out with Virgin Mobile, this was the operators first “batch” of E-SIMS none of their teams said they used E-SIM so when it broke no one knew how to fix it so they ended up sending me a physical, although to be fair the technology is good the operator is not.

    Virgin then disabled the physical as they said I already had another SIM but they couldn’t find it on their system. Let’s just say they paid out for it by giving me unlimited and forgetting to stop the one month free sim while they fixed it so ended up with a year of unlimited for free

  15. Avatar photo Slight says:

    Where on Earth did these statistics come from at OpenSignal?
    Only M1 and Simba (way lowest player) in Singapore has launched esim for non-wearables, Singapore is way way behind on esim adoption with none of the major players pushing it, these stats are nowhere near what the reality is.

  16. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    The phone manufacturers really didn’t think about the best way to implement e-sim did they?

Comments are closed

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