What is a dual SIM phone?

Dual SIM phones allow you to use multiple phone SIMs in a single device, but that’s an approach that has both upsides and definite downsides.

At the most basic level, a dual SIM phone is one that has two SIM card slots. This means that you could drop SIM cards from different telecommunications providers into a single phone and have them both active on your phone at the same time.

Why would you want a dual SIM phone?

The classic problem that the first dual SIM phones tackled was one of phone call costs, especially for businesses. If your work supplies you with a phone (or just a SIM card) and you’ve got your own private number, it’s fiddly to keep two phones on you, not to mention near-impossible to handle them if they’re both ringing at the same time!

The advantages of a dual SIM phone relate to managing both your communications and your costs. If you’ve got one SIM with unlimited calls but another that’s your direct contact number or perhaps has better international calling rates, a dual SIM phone would allow you to pick and choose which provider you used for each service type.

The other market that would benefit from a dual SIM device is that of frequent travellers, with the ability to keep your own Australian SIM in one slot and using a prepaid SIM from your destination country in the second. This will allow you to avoid hefty international data roaming fees, but still keep your phone number accessible while overseas.

Dual SIM phones were never massive in Australia as a direct category, and they’re still somewhat rare at the full retail level, although many popular phone models are in fact produced in dual SIM variants to offer to markets where it is more popular.

As such, this is worth keeping in mind if you’re keen to import or buy an imported phone because several high-profile premium phones, as well as many budget models, have international dual SIM variants. The Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, was launched at MWC 2016 with the South Korean company showing off dual SIM models, but that’s not the version we officially got in Australia.

This also means it’s worth checking the exact details of any phone you’re interested in, because any references to dual SIM capability would need to be checked against the models sold in Australia, both those imported (where dual SIM is slightly more likely) and those provided by telcos, who don’t typically offer dual SIM phones at all. This means that if you're keen on a dual SIM phone, you'll probably have to pay an outright purchase price for it.

Can I get a dual SIM iPhone?

No, you can’t. Apple does produce some variant models of its very popular iPhone series for different international markets, most notably a few China-specific models as well as "SIM-free" models that operate (to date) on US networks only, but it’s never produced a dual SIM iPhone. If you’re offered one through a retailer or online auction site, it’s certainly a fake – probably Android running an iOS-like launcher.

Why wouldn’t you want a dual SIM phone?

Running multiple SIMs and having them connected to two networks at once means that there’s more of a power draw to keep that kind of service running on the phone. Comparatively, a single SIM version of a phone that also has a dual SIM variant will offer longer battery life.

They are also arguably a little less compelling in the current Australian market simply because so many plans offer unlimited standard national calls and texts. If your outgoing calls are infinite, and bearing in mind no Australian carrier charges for incoming calls, the financial impetus for dual SIM phones is greatly reduced.

The other limiting factor to recognise for dual SIM phones is that often the two SIM slots are not equal in network terms. Typically one SIM will be designated as a full 4G LTE slot while the secondary slot will operate only as a 3G, or in some cases 2G GSM slot. The latter case is especially problematic for Australian consumers, with 2G services starting shutdown by December 2016, with no service outside of Christmas Island on 2G frequencies by September 2017. At that point, any dual SIM phone that can only drop the second SIM to 2G may as well be a single-SIM model for all the good it will do you.

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