In part 1 of this series, I’ve taken a look at the process of purchasing an eSIM online for roaming purposes and then downloading it to a smartphone. In this part, I’ll have a look at some technical details such as the home network operator of the eSIM, location of the Internet connectivity, performance and other tidbits.
Hallo! Mobile eSIM for Germany
The first eSIM I bought from Airalo, a company is registered in Singapore by the way, and then downloaded to my smartphone, was a ‘Hallo! Mobil’ eSIM for Internet access in Germany. No EU or other countries were included in this package, and the eSIM provided Internet access via the LTE network of Telefonica/O2. 5G EN-DC roaming was not allowed. So far, so good.
Now let’s have a look at the technical details: After the eSIM was downloaded to the device, I checked the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) of the virtual SIM card, and was surprised to find an MCC/MNC from Polish network operator Play (260/06). This means that the SIM card is treated as a Polish roamer in the network. The little roaming ‘R’ over the signal bars also showed up in the display of the smartphone.
And now comes the really interesting part: When I ran a whois query for the public IP address that is used when communicating with the Internet, the database told me that it is from an IP address range owned by OVH in Roubaix, France. If you don’t know OVH, they are a big cloud provider from that country. I did a quick traceroute to that IP address, and the last visible hop is be102.rbx-g3-nc5.fr.eu. In other words, IP packets are really traversing an OVH data center in France. The administrative contact for the subnet range, however, is London in the UK. In other words, whoever is behind the ‘Hallo! Mobile’ offer either has their own LTE P-GW in one of OVH’s data centers, or they tunnel traffic from Poland to an OVH data center and then branch out to the Internet from there. The second possibility doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but there’s no way of telling from the outside.
The next thing I did was to check the data rates and round trip delay times for the connection with librespeed.org. The round trip delay time I measured to a data center in Germany, i.e. a local data center from a user point of view was 81 milliseconds. A ping to the same destination with a local German SIM card is around 45 milliseconds when measured in the same way. That means the redirect via France (and potentially perhaps Poland) adds another 35 milliseconds round trip time. Again, no way of telling how the IP packets are routed until they hit the Internet. Throughput to the Hetzner data center in Germany was a meager 8 Mbit/s in the downlink direction and 4 Mbit/s in the uplink direction. Running the same test with a server in a data center of Clouvider in Frankfurt gave me 40 Mbit/s in the downlink direction and 7.5 Mbit/s in the uplink direction. And finally, I got 30 Mbit/s down and 34 Mbit/s in the uplink direction to Hetzner in Helsinki. Then, I wanted to run a speedtest on fast.com, but the site complained that no servers could be reached. That was a first, I never had that before.
Overall, the service works, and data rates and round trip times are usable, but not record breaking in any way. Would I use this eSIM when coming from the Americas or Asia to Germany? Yes, definitely, the advantages of purchasing an eSIM online and installing it in the device even before leaving for a one or two week trip to Germany far outwith the higher round trip time and higher costs per GB compared to a local prepaid SIM card that one would have to buy in a shop and register online in some way before being used. For longer stays, a local prepaid SIM card or perhaps a combination of an eSIM for the first few days and a local prepaid SIM for the remaining time might also be an option.
Stay tuned for part 3, in which I’ll describe my experiences with yet another roaming eSIM I’ve downloaded and tested. Lots of surprises there as well!