Roaming Report – Part 3 – Airalo – 5 Minutes to the eSIM

After a bit of a disappointing prepaid eSIM (non-) experience directly from US network operators, I switched to plan B and had a look if I could get an eSIM for use in the US from one of the global eSIM roaming platforms. Two years ago, I checked out Airalo when I was roaming in Europe, and was quite happy with the result.

It turned out that the company also has prepaid eSIMs for the US with support for LTE and 5G (non-standalone, ENDC). Pricing started at USD 4.50 for 1 GB for 7 days and up to USD 42 for 20 GB for 30 days. From a European point of view, these prices might seem rather high, but from a US point of view, the pricing is actually very competitive. For comparison: One operator asks for USD 40 (+ taxes) for 10 GB of data on a prepaid plan and USD 50 for ‘unlimited’ but with lots of limits attached, such as potential throttling after 50 GB and ‘3G speeds’ for tethering use, whatever ‘3G speeds’ might be…

Getting the eSIM with Airalo is straight forward: Select the amount of data, pay with Paypal or credit card and then scan the 2D bar code that is shown with an eSIM capable phone to start the eSIM download. 5 minutes from start to finish.

I went for the 1 GB for USD 4.50 option, as I mainly wanted to use the eSIM for testing. Once the eSIM was downloaded, my device attached to one of the network operators and immediately used LTE + 5G ENDC. A number of speed tests showed data rates well above 80 Mbps in the downlink direction and 30 Mbps in the uplink direction under medium radio conditions. While not being in the Gbps range, the speeds are quite acceptable from my point of view, and I don’t think any throttling was applied. I then had a closer look why the datarates where as high or low as they were and will report more about that in a follow-up post. But for the moment, I was quite happy with the result.

Next, I had a look at where P-GW was located. From the Internet, the IP address that was seen for my connection was A ‘whois‘ and ‘traceroute‘ then showed that the IP address belongs to Cogent, and the egress point is located in Dallas, TX. Makes sense, as the location is between the East and West Coast, so a good compromise. From a delay point of view, having an egress point in the US has a much lower latency when contacting servers in the US compared to the use of a P-GW in Germany when using a roaming SIM card of the home network operator.

To see if any kind of traffic shaping was applied, I then used several publicly known and also privately hosted speed testing servers. All came up with pretty much the same result, so it doesn’t seem like particular traffic is preferred or throttled. This might just be another advantage of a roaming SIM card with a local gateway to the Internet, as prepaid subscriptions directly from US network operators seem to do just that for video and Wi-Fi tethering data in some tariffs. I have to note, however, that I base this statement on the T&Cs for prepaid SIMs that can be found on their web pages rather than personal experience (see previous part).

Next, I had a closer look at which ‘home network’ operator the Airalo eSIM uses. The Mobile Country Code and Mobile Network Code of the eSIM card was 208/01, which is Orange France. When attaching to the network, the default PDN connection assigned by the network is ‘wbdata’, which coincided with the Airalo description. As I didn’t create a manual APN profile, which the Airalo documentation suggested me to do, the mobile went ahead and also wanted to establish another default PDN connection with the APN (Access Point Name) set to ‘orange’. Sometimes that request was granted, sometimes it was rejected. In other words, creating a manual APN profile is the right thing to do to stop needles PDU connectivity requests, but in this case, it was even working without manual configuration.

I also noticed that my device asked for an IMS bearer, to which the network responded with the activation of another ‘wbdata’ bearer. This was quite expected, as the Airalo eSIM is ‘data’ only.

On the Airalo web page, it was noted that the eSIM could be used in all 3 major networks in the US. When I tried, I could use two of the three, but was rejected by the third. Not a problem at all, I would see even two out of three networks as an advantage of using a roaming SIM compared to a prepaid subscription from a local network operator.

So much for today, more to come.