The rise of dual SIM devices has been widely reported, but predominantly with a focus on emerging economies. I see that trend expanding into additional markets.
There are several drivers for multi-SIM usage universal across all markets:
- Obtaining better rates for international, local and data usage.
- Separating work and personal calls.
- Cross-border usage, where business or personal travel may frequently take users across national borders.
- Maintaining personal secrecy – one SIM for the family and one SIM for the lover.
There will also be a major new driver: the coming age of networking austerity. We are exploring this in MEX Pathway #1 and foresee growing pressure on consumers to optimise their data usage in response to higher charges, stricter data caps and bandwidth throttling. We may see a higher number of customers using one SIM for data (perhaps provided by a niche MVNO) and another for voice.
As a result, handset manufacturers are looking at dual SIM capabilities as a differentiator, even in advanced markets. One such company is ViewSonic, showing a dual SIM Android device at MWC. It has a customised dial-pad, with one big green calling button for SIM 1 and another for SIM 2. Data networks are similarly separated. Calls can be received on either SIM at any time and are identified as coming from that specific network.
Of course, physically building 2 SIM slots into a device is merely a means to an end. The wider issue here is allowing instant commodity trading of network capacity. Apple has filed a patent for this technique, where network operators essentially go through an invisible bidding process to provide transport for the users’ communications. If achieved, it would represent a complete inversion of the relationship between customer and operator. The SIM as a token of operator ownership of the customer would cease to exist.
Operators have been understandably hesitant to range any devices with dual SIM capability. However, as the falling cost of devices from manufacturers such as ViewSonic brings dual SIM products within reach of customers making unsubsidised purchases, operators will face a changing landscape.
Disruption can happen quickly once it gains a foothold.