Why are dual-SIM mobiles so popular in India?


Dual-SIM or multiple-SIM mobile phones have become very popular in India. Don’t think so? Just ask Nokia. That single category has brought Nokia to its knees. Nokia neglected the dual SIM category only to find upstarts like Micromax taking full advantage of the opportunity. Nokia launched a few dual SIM models in the past few months but couldn’t capture the market back. The new kids on the block already had a leg up. How could Nokia ignore this category? And what is so great about this kind of phone that makes it so popular? 

Dual-SIM as a concept existed for quite a while. Spice Mobiles was the earliest company to advertise dual-SIM mobile phones. There is lot of ambiguity on the patents of this technology. Somasundaram Ramkumar has filed patents for dual-SIM or plurality of SIM’s technology and is looking for a Rs. 35 royalty for every dual SIM mobile sold in the country. That would have made him stinking rich already. Spice, along with Samsung and Mirc electronics, were affected by this patent war at that time. Whatever happened to the patent and the ban by the court after that is not known. Everyone is selling dual SIM devices at will, which would mean the the patent litigation is resolved by now.  

When Spice launched the dual-SIM category phone, there were a handful of established telcom operators. Spice’s launch was a little ahead of its time. There wasn’t much of a traction for the dual SIM-category and it laid dormant for a while. Dual-SIM’s biggest break came when the spectrum was alloted to a handful of operators. Uninor (Unitech+Telenor), Videocon, Stel, Loop telecom, Swan telecom (Etisalat JV), Shyam Telelink (Sistema JV)  have all contributed to the explosion of dual-SIM. This is at the same time Reliance and Tata (a JV with NTT DoCoMo) entered the GSM market. This has done two things. It has increased the number of GSM players (CDMA is the other technology). It has put a lot of pressure on the existing operators and the new operators alike.  

Here are the top 6 reasons for popularity of dual-SIM phones: 

1.     Taking advantage of the various rate plans, of which there are too many. 

1.     Different local and long distance plans

2.     Different night time calling plans, or cheaper outgoing plans. 

2.     To keep work number separate from personal number.

3.     The signal strength of an operator is poor in some areas.

4.     People tend to travel out of state and want to keep both numbers or keep the existing number

5.     Dual-SIM phones are cheap to buy competing with the a single SIM phones. 

6.     Most importantly it doesn’t cost a thing to get a new number.

These are the main reasons for the growing ubiquity of dual-SIM phones. There could be other reasons like one number for the wife and one number for the girlfriend, but the majority would fall in the six reasons above. 

Airtel has a concept of having 10 different phone numbers on single piece of hardware. If this materializes dual-SIM as a category would wane off. Another thing which could jeopardize the dual-SIM category is number portability. If and when it comes, it would affect the dual-SIM category significantly. Then it is time to move on to a new category. What would that be? Touch screen? Multi-touch screens?