Staying connected is a challenge, which is why our mission is to help people find the best network so that they can optimise the time they spend with a mobile signal. Many differing solutions have been suggested for improving mobile network coverage, with a recent idea in the UK being to force networks to share infrastructure in order to reduce ‘partial notspots’ (areas where there is coverage from at least one operator but not all). But what if you didn’t have to choose one network? What if you could choose two, or even more? This is one of the ideas behind multi-SIM devices (usually dual) – which allow one device to access different mobile networks by using multiple sim cards within the device. The technology to do this exists, but we had always regarded these phones as a bit exotic and therefore not a workable mass solution. In the UK and US dual SIM devices are uncommon, used by under 5% of the population and so we presumed it was about the same everywhere. We were wrong.
The mobile networks we provide analysis for and the feedback from our millions of users worldwide had suggested that dual-SIM phones were important and much more commonplace that we had suspected, so we decided to carry out some detective work and get the figures for ourselves. The results were stunning: there are markets, including Indonesia, India, Russia, Thailand and The Phillippines (markets accounting for almost 2 billion people) – where over 40% of new Android users have multi-SIM devices (devices which are capable of holding more than one SIM Card, the data analysed for this report does not necessarily show whether this capability is in use).
This is a significant result, not only for understanding consumer behaviour, but because it impacts the calculations of how many people in the world have mobile devices and therefore the figures on mobile penetration in individual countries. These calculations typically use subscriber numbers provided by mobile network operators, but if you add all the numbers of subscriptions you’ll over-count the number of users because some will have subscriptions on multiple networks. To understand how connected the world is, you need to understand the importance of dual SIM.Dual SIM devices are particularly popular in Asia
Since dual-SIM is so key to measuring the mobile ecosystem, you’d expect there to be more studies of it. However, getting the data is tricky.
Android does not provide APIs to detect whether a device has multiple SIM support – using the common Android framework that’s available to all apps, there’s no way for an app to know if it is on a dual SIM device. Typically manufacturer’s do provide their own API methods for this, but they may not be documented publicly, you need to search for them yourself.
Analysing our device library, generated from millions of OpenSignal downloads, we were able to identify 4 different API methods that can be used to detect whether dual or multi SIM is present or not. Since these indicators are not documented, we can’t be 100% certain they do correctly identify dual SIMs. However, the names of the API methods themselves are often highly indicative (e.g. “isMultiSim”). We’ve also checked many of the devices returned in this way manually (read: we’ve googled the models to see if they are advertised as dual SIM) and all the checks have been positive. We’re pretty certain that the models we’ve identified are all dual SIM as there have been no false positives. We believe we have identified all the dual-SIM devices using our method, however we cannot be totally sure that we do not have false negatives – i.e. devices mis-identified as single SIM. While there may be devices built by small manufactures that we don’t know about, we are confident that our methodology has correctly identified the market share of multi-SIM devices.
How else could this data be retrieved? There are several services that provide data on device marketshare (including the device library which we make commercially available), but what enables us to do this analysis is our monitoring of the presence of hundreds of software and hardware features. The device model name is not enough, indeed often dual SIM and single SIM devices appear in our database with the same name and we are only able to distinguish them by inspecting the API methods described above.
- The number of multi SIM devices is huge:
in the last month 26% of new users of the OpenSignal app had a device multi SIM support. This survey covers just over 1 million app users up to 18th January 2015.
- There is a very broad choice of multi SIM devices:
we identified over 10000 different Android models with multi SIM support.
- There are profound differences between markets:
in general developing economies have a higher proportion of dual SIM users, in several countries dual (or multi) SIM users are the majority of Android users. The US, UK and Canada all have around 4% penetration, Australia is slightly higher at 5%. Several European countries have middle of the road values – Greece, Hungary, Spain, Albania, Croatia are all around 25%.
As with Android marketshare in general, Samsung is leading the multi-SIM market. The top 4 models (including two variants of the Galaxy Win Duos) account for 6% of the multi-SIM market and are all manufactured by Samsung,
While we’re confident in our methodology, it is possible our data is demographically biased - our users are people who care about signal, that may be why they download our app. It’s possible our figures are too high, but we want to make them public, so at least there is some data in the public domain. We’re looking forward to seeing our findings confirmed or otherwise. Certainly our numbers are not high in the context of Strategy Analytics prediction that dual SIM devices would represent 20% of handset marketshare by 2016, nor given that Microsoft is aiming for 1 billion sales of their latest (dual SIM) feature-phone.
What is clear is that dual SIM devices are a significant part of the mobile ecosystem, and despite building signal apps for years: this was news to us. This is perhaps representative of a larger problem, a sort of developer tunnel vision - most developers’ top priority will be to build an app that works for their device or on those belonging to their friends and colleagues. Unless they have an extraordinarily diverse peer group however, the demographic of global device users is highly unlikely to be anything like the demographic of their friends. While OpenSignal works on dual SIM devices, we now want to see if we can provide these users with more features. This is something for all those who contribute to the Android ecosystem to ponder: are you building to target what your familiar with, or are you building for the biggest markets?