Review: GigSky, an eSIM service for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR

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in General Discussion edited June 24
GigSky is a mobile cell service provider with a history of catering to Apple users, providing service in more than 190 countries. When they announced their eSIM for iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, AppleInsider gave it a shot.




You may not have heard of GigSky, but they aren't new; they've been around since 2010. In 2015, the firm began offering support for the Apple SIM for iPads, a SIM Apple provides which lets you select providers from within iOS.

From the very beginning, they've placed an emphasis on providing service for international travelers, and the eSIM offering fits right in that niche.

What it is

The iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR are equipped with an eSIM.

A SIM card contains the SIM chip, essentially a very small computer that is programmed with all the carrier's settings to enable phone service. With most modern phones, you have to insert a SIM to activate mobile phone service.

The eSIM, or embedded SIM, is that same functionality as a programmable computer built into the iPhone.

The advantage of doing this is that it saves space in the phone: you don't need to have physical space for the physical card, you don't need the contacts inside to receive it, you don't need the ejector mechanism, which means Apple can use that interior space for something else.

With the 2019 iPhones, excluding the dual-SIM model for China, it's possible to set up a mobile phone data provider directly from an app, such as the one provided by GigSky.

How it works

When Apple announced eSIM functionality, they mentioned using a QR code to set it up. In GigSky's case, you download the GigSky app and are guided through choosing a plan.

GigSky has a range of four plans covering time, data and cost ranges
GigSky has a range of four plans covering time, data and cost ranges


GigSky has data plans starting from 800MB (1 day, $10), and rising through 1GB and 2GB (15 days, $20 and $30 respectively), and up to 5GB (30 days, $50.) After selecting the plan, the destination needs to be chosen from the long list of countries. For this review, Las Vegas was selected as the location.

Las Vegas is a difficult city for mobile data. The tall buildings of the strip negatively affect signal, and the increased number of people for conventions place huge demands on the cell towers, especially when tech conferences are in town.

In years' past, we've used Verizon reasonably well, AT&T with poor results, and T-Mobile with mixed results, seemingly depending on how high up a building we were.

It's not clear which providers GigSky uses in the US, or which providers they use in any of the 190 countries. We asked for this information, but had not received answers at time of publication. This was important to us, because if our regular carrier was Verizon, and they're using Verizon's towers, then it provides limited benefit to add as a secondary data provider.

After selecting a data plan, you give the eSIM a nickname, or can delete it if you need to, because perhaps you selected the incorrect plan or wrong country.

Payment for the plan was easy, but the steps that followed were a little more complicated, because you have to leave the GigSky app and be prompted to add the cellular plan within some screens that the iPhone displays. GigSky offers some screen images to help guide you through the process.

You add the plan to your phone, and have to give it a label, as well as changing any further settings, such as selecting it as a data-only plan.

Setting up GigSky is relatively easy
Setting up GigSky is relatively easy


After doing this, reviewing the plan will show that the credits are active, and the signal strength bar will have a second line of bars below it indicating an additional plan is in use.

Using Control Center shows both signal bars with the names of the services, and indicators for whether they're primary or secondary. In Settings > Cellular, it's easy to change which service is primary or secondary, and it's possible to set one service as primary for voice, and the other as primary for data.

And then completing the iOS setup to get GigSky working
Completing the iOS setup to get GigSky's eSIM connected


When the screen is locked, you also get the carrier labels, although the labels are on the left side of the screen with the signal strength bars on the right side of the screen.

The lock screen and control center display both service's signal strength
The lock screen and control center display both service's signal strength


Speedtest.net's app shows the GigSky eSIM tested at 74.21 Mbps, with AT&T detected as the nearest site to speed test through. The app also thought the provider was Zayo. As Zayo has 12.3 million miles of fiber according to their Web site, it's possible that GigSky eventually routed back to Zayo's backbone.

The different kinds of results from Speedtest.net
The different kinds of results from Speedtest.net. The slow result was my default Verizon Wireless service.


Testing Verizon Wireless against GigSky was revealing: download speeds were 10.4 Mbps. Even testing GigSky with different destinations offered better results than Verizon's 10.4 Mbps. The worst GigSky result scored on the iPhone XS Max used for testing was 40.2 Mbps.

It's important to note that this may not be similar to your experience if you don't live or travel in Las Vegas or the Mid-Atlantic region of the US, but we are encouraged that GigSky partnered with competent carriers.

What we thought of it

Set up was easy, as at no time did we feel confused or lost, although we did take a minute to read all the steps, where normally we might have just tapped through. Even where setup is mildly complex (the handoff between GigSky and Apple), they do attempt to make it easy by providing the necessary information before hand.

Speeds are fast, at least in the areas we tested: Eastern USA and Las Vegas. We never felt like we were without signal in either region.

GigSky is probably the easiest method for having local data service, especially over the old ways of finding a cell phone store, buying a pay-go SIM, and having to figure out how to top up.

The use of the eSIM in general makes this easy, and doing it through an app is even easier. The downside we predict with international travel would be the fact that you need to have some sort of data connection to buy GigSky data in the first place, in which case users abroad have to find someplace with Wi-Fi long enough to set it all up.

The notion of buying 5GB for $50 is fine, but the notion of that being time-limited is lousy, and a real shame. If you buy 5GB for $50 and the unused portion expires, it's fair to feel a little cheated. We understand this is how data is priced among carriers, but it's a disappointment that there isn't a carrier willing to change this.

Score: 4 out of 5

The GigSky app is available on the iOS App Store.

Correction June 24, 8:20 p.m. Eastern: Updated with new GigSky pricing.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    jeromecjeromec Posts: 67member
    Used it twice in Beijing, China in the last few months (each a time the 5GB/30 days plan).
    1300 (no typo) less expensive than roaming with my French operator.
    Worked great.
    Furthermore, no chinese firewall, plus, I was identified as connected from the US (it probably assigned me a US IP).

    neverindoubtSoliroundaboutnowapplesnorangesjbdragon
  • Reply 2 of 27
    racerhomie3racerhomie3 Posts: 1,138member
    If you are in India to travel use Airtel or Jio. They have Esim support & data rates are MUCH cheaper. I understand the convenience but once you get the native esim you can easily add another in different country.
    Soli
  • Reply 3 of 27
    chromoschromos Posts: 190member
    Kind of disappointed with this review as I don’t think the use case presented will be typical of GigSky customers. 

    I use GigSky when traveling all the time and l love it. What wasn’t covered in the review:
    1. Rates are much cheaper than your US carrier roaming rates
    2. Unlike Always Online wireless, GigSky plans cover multiple countries, so you don’t have to buy a plan for each country
    3. You can pre-pay for your plan in your home country, and the data will only start once you arrive in your destination country


    Solichasmlolliverroundaboutnowjbdragon
  • Reply 4 of 27
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,933member
    Are unlimited phone call minutes and texting available with those stated plans, or just data?
    macseeker
  • Reply 5 of 27
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,588member
    Thanks for the article, I now have a phone that can do eSIM so I think I will give this a try when next I travel abroad.
  • Reply 6 of 27
    Google Fi covers more countries, now supports iPhones, with eSIM in the works, and is cheaper. I hope Apple follows Googles lead and offers an Apple plan that is unlimited world wide one day!
    applesnorangessteveaugatorguyemoeller
  • Reply 7 of 27
    mrarfarf said:
    Google Fi covers more countries, now supports iPhones, with eSIM in the works, and is cheaper. I hope Apple follows Googles lead and offers an Apple plan that is unlimited world wide one day!
    From Google FI page, after selecting for iPhone: Fi for iOS is in beta, so not all Fi features will be supported on this Phone. Setup also requires a little extra attention, but we'll walk you through it. Before switching, make sure this phone is unlocked. 

    Also, no E-SIM capability, which I think this article is all about. 

     But I’m with you on the wish that Apple someday offers its own plan. 
  • Reply 8 of 27
    An Apple quality telecom plan would be lovely 😊 
  • Reply 9 of 27
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 713editor
    If you are in India to travel use Airtel or Jio. They have Esim support & data rates are MUCH cheaper. I understand the convenience but once you get the native esim you can easily add another in different country.
    I wouldn't think GigSky is the cheapest in every country - a local company like Jio or Airtel can have better pricing.

    The convenience is in knowing GigSky is in so many countries, a traveler can set it up once and not have to worry about whether or not it will work in the destination country.
  • Reply 10 of 27
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 713editor

    mrarfarf said:
    Google Fi covers more countries, now supports iPhones, with eSIM in the works, and is cheaper. I hope Apple follows Googles lead and offers an Apple plan that is unlimited world wide one day!
    I reviewed Google Fi for iOS. https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/01/21/google-fi-for-the-iphone-solid-for-travelers-but-still-has-same-carrier-customer-service-nonsense

    It doesn't support eSIM. It's only cheaper if you make it your primary carrier - If you want to use 5GB of data (like GigSky) then you're paying 70 bucks on Google Fi. Yes, you can use it just like the plan back home for calling and data, where GigSky is data-only, but GoogleFi is not yet coming close to the convenience that an eSIM provides for travel. 
    roundaboutnow
  • Reply 11 of 27
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 713editor

    Soli said:
    Are unlimited phone call minutes and texting available with those stated plans, or just data?
    Data, although iMessage counts as data. So does FaceTime and FaceTime Audio.
    SoliPetrolDave
  • Reply 12 of 27
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,991member
    I have an Australian SIM, if I go to the states it'll cost $A5 a day added to my bill for that I get full access to my 54GB of data, unlimited calls and text.

    Don't have to do anything just switch phone back on when I get off the plane, in any of these countries..


    gatorguy
  • Reply 13 of 27
    zeaj07zeaj07 Posts: 2member
    Tried GigSky in Europe, Brazil and Singapore. Every time it was slower than when roaming on my home carrier or with a prepaid sim. I now have a XS and use my USA carrier with their international plan. I have not noticed speed issues. Seems the article would have been more robust if tested outside the USA, maybe in a more typical use scenario where one cannot use data roaming freely with their normal carrier. 
    edited June 24
  • Reply 14 of 27
    chiachia Posts: 699member
    hill60 said:
    I have an Australian SIM, if I go to the states it'll cost $A5 a day added to my bill for that I get full access to my 54GB of data, unlimited calls and text.

    Don't have to do anything just switch phone back on when I get off the plane, in any of these countries..


    Thank you, useful to know.  It's a bit odd this Australian carrier lists the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom, rather than just making one entry for the United Kingdom.  My British carrier is similar to this Australian carrier, in that it offers inclusive voice, text and data roaming in the countries listed above.  I'm somewhat surprised there's little mention of US cellular carriers offering similar plans, which would otherwise render the SIM offered by GigSky obsolete.
  • Reply 15 of 27
    isidoreisidore Posts: 49member
    Interesting, but as you say the time limit is the killer- same on data only sims on the ipad- you have to look hard on ebay to find data only sims that have a year of life
  • Reply 16 of 27
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 19,223member
    It's a bit pathetic that in this day and age of WhatsApp, Skype, FT, etc., we have to desperately search around for arbitrage opportunities in Kafkaesque mazes to find a decent cross-border cellular plan.

    Damn these Luddite b-s telecom throwbacks...
  • Reply 17 of 27
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,709member
    vmarks said:

    mrarfarf said:
    Google Fi covers more countries, now supports iPhones, with eSIM in the works, and is cheaper. I hope Apple follows Googles lead and offers an Apple plan that is unlimited world wide one day!
    I reviewed Google Fi for iOS. https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/01/21/google-fi-for-the-iphone-solid-for-travelers-but-still-has-same-carrier-customer-service-nonsense

    It doesn't support eSIM. It's only cheaper if you make it your primary carrier - If you want to use 5GB of data (like GigSky) then you're paying 70 bucks on Google Fi. Yes, you can use it just like the plan back home for calling and data, where GigSky is data-only, but GoogleFi is not yet coming close to the convenience that an eSIM provides for travel. 
    Fi does support eSIM but only for phones designed for the service. The iPhone is only compatible with Fi.
    https://www.blog.google/products/project-fi/bringing-esim-more-networks-around-world/

    Excellent article by the way @vmarks Informative post from @hill60 too
    edited June 24
  • Reply 18 of 27
    tulkastulkas Posts: 3,754member
    I've used truPhone in Europe and it was awesome. Easy to set up before leaving, LTE connection and inexpensive.

    For anyone shopping around, a good site to check is https://esimdb.com/. Select your country and it'll list out most of the available eSIM options for you. 
  • Reply 19 of 27
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,096member
    I used GigSky's older SIM based service in 2015 when traveling a few days in Korea.  It was hard to get working (hopefully the eSim support in iOS makes it easier).   It was also terribly slow.   Almost to the point of not being useful.   Hopefully GigSky's has worked out better arrangements now than I saw then.

    I plan on using eSim capability in a month when traveling to Japan.  Haven't decided which carrier yet.  
  • Reply 20 of 27
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 713editor
    zeaj07 said:
    Tried GigSky in Europe, Brazil and Singapore. Every time it was slower than when roaming on my home carrier or with a prepaid sim. I now have a XS and use my USA carrier with their international plan. I have not noticed speed issues. Seems the article would have been more robust if tested outside the USA, maybe in a more typical use scenario where one cannot use data roaming freely with their normal carrier. 
    I am unable to book international flights in a timely manner for testing a cell carrier plan, sorry.

    Admittedly, I used to travel international a lot more frequently, and I wasn't holding the review until the next time I fly. 
    edited June 24
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