KnowRoaming's new eSIM service gets you cheap data in the U.S. or Europe on the iPhone XS
I am an unabashed fan of the eSIM. The prospect of decoupling a phone from the physical SIM card that provides the means for connectivity to a particular carrier — and usually only one carrier — is very attractive. But for one reason or another, mainly having to do with the powerful carriers that provide the service, and the lucrative roaming agreements they make with providers in other countries, eSIM adoption has been molasses slow.
That's slowly changing thanks to the introduction of eSIM support in the latest iPhones along with the Pixel 3 lineup. Now a Toronto-based company, KnowRoaming, is one of the first companies to offer easy eSIM-powered data services for the U.S. and Europe starting at $10 for 1GB of data.
The road to eSIM has been long for KnowRoaming, which started in 2014 offering paper-thin stickers that were affixed to the bottom of actual SIM cards, tricking a phone into thinking there were two providers on a single SIM card. While it definitely solved the problem of overpriced roaming plans at the time, the application process was clunky. A couple of years later, KnowRoaming started offering actual roaming SIM cards at a flat $7.99 rate for unlimited data, and by 2017 they had LTE connectivity in 60 countries.
The goal was always to get here, though: eSIM is a completely software-based connectivity solution, utilizing QR codes to provide the same metadata that a physical SIM is permanently imprinted with. KnowRoaming's two markets, the U.S. and Europe — specific countries below — are jumping-off points as the company tests the popularity and feasibility of eSIM service in general, since the number of devices on which this can work is pretty small right now.
Countries supported by KnowRoaming in Europe
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
There are some inherent limits to eSIM aside from device availability. Mainly, the activation method is clunky since it relies on a QR code which must be physically scanned using a phone's camera, requiring another device like a second phone, or a laptop, to display it. The QR code is a current requirement for eSIM activation because there's no centralized activation server — the eSIM is basically an address to tell the phone where to go to download the connectivity details.
Once the QR code is scanned, it's tied to that phone, too; there's no moving the service to a different eSIM-accessible phone, for example. That said, its permanence allows for quick re-upping of a particular roaming plan without needing to scan additional QR codes, so there are advantages and disadvantages to the eSIM's digital foundation.
Of course, KnowRoaming is by no means the first carrier to offer eSIM service, but it's among the first to provide inexpensive data-only LTE for travelers. Apple has a comprehensive overview of which carriers offer eSIM versions of their phones, and the iPad Pro has offered a built-in eSIM and easy-to-activate roaming packages for some time now. In fact, the eSIM providers that have partnered with Apple on the iPad Pro, GigSky and Truphone, are KnowRoaming's direct competitors (and both offer eSIM service for the iPhone XS).
KnowRoaming is unique in that it's much cheaper and it explicitly supports the Pixel 3 and other eSIM-enabled Android phones. The 1GB plan costs $10 for 30 days and the 5GB plan costs $40. I used an earlier version of the KnowRoaming eSIM (using the Telna brand, which owns KnowRoaming) on my recent trip to Europe and Turkey on my Pixel 3 and it worked tremendously well.
A product like this isn't meant to replace your regular SIM, especially when traveling. But for people like me, whose carrier charges $12 per day for international roaming, a product like KnowRoaming lets me have my primary SIM activated if I need it while relying on less expensive roaming data to get online. Win, win.
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Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.