The introduction of mobile number portability in Kenya on April 1 this year was expected to change the country’s mobile telephony scene, with one of the effects being reduced preference for dual SIM handsets.
But slow uptake of number portability by subscribers, with figures from Porting Access indicating that the number of porting requests is still less than 30,000 out of the country’s over 20 million mobile subscribers, shows that not much has changed almost two months since the initiative was launched.
Mobile handset manufacturers, keen to serve users’ need to be available one multiple networks, are currently introducing into the market dual SIM devices that enable subscribers to have two active numbers simultaneously.
Most of the major handset manufacturers, notably LG and Samsung, currently have dual SIM handsets.
Nokia, which has not been very visible in the manufacture of dual SIM devices, also plans to launch two dual SIM handsets ¬- C2-03 and C2-06 retailing for between US $ 105 and 112 – in the local market by August this year.
According to handset manufacturers, dual SIM devices are ideal for Africa’s mobile telephony scene as most networks do not have full coverage throughout a specific geographic location or country.
“Dual SIM devices are also ideal for subscribers who are frequent travelers to other countries and move across borders as they may need to purchase local SIM cards while visiting but still want to stay connected to their home networks. This is only possible via dual SIM handsets as they come with two SIM card slots,” said Paulo Ferreira, Samsung South Africa’s head of mobile product and software solutions.
Ferreira added that dual SIM devices also gives subscribers the possibility to stay connected on two SIM cards – one being the business or formal SIM and the informal or home SIM card – via the same handset and at the same time.
“The dual SIM handsets offers a complimentary service to users and is not an alternative service to mobile number portability,” noted Ferreira, adding that in view of the demand for the devices, Samsung is set to release new entry-level dual SIM smartphones in the regional market.
Even though there is a perception that dual SIM devices only do well in countries with more than one mobile phone service provider, device manufacturers think otherwise as subscribers may choose to have multiple SIM cards from the same network for various reasons.
But even as handset vendors develop these dual SIMs and push them to the market, in order to offer more choice to subscribers to ensure that they are reachable no matter the location where they are, mobile network service providers are not keen on supporting this innovation and trend.
This is because their resale out lets are only stocking single SIM handsets and not dual SIMs, for various reasons, the main one being they want subscribers to retain only one SIM, the assumption being that the other SIM slot will be used to connect to a rival network by inserting the latter’s SIM card on the second SIM slot.
What may not be clear – or is ignored – by operators is that subscribers may and do buy and operate two or even more SIM cards from the same service provider for various reasons.
The reply I got from one of Safaricom’s care centres and resale outlets when I enquired about why they don not stock dual SIMs is that “we want our subscribers to retain a single SIM,” meaning Safaricom line.
But what about if I need the additional line (from the same network), within the same handset, for my own personal reasons, for calling different groups of people?
The response from Airtel Kenya was: “We do not have dual SIMs at the moment…”
Three “moments” or visits later, on different days, the response was still the same, even though I was careful to enquire from different care attendants every time I went.
“Dual SIM cards and number portability will always co-exist. I know of a country (Ethiopia) where there is only one mobile network (Ethiopia Telecoms) and subscribers still possess multiple SIM cards – one for business and the other informal,” said Robert Ngeru, Samsung’s commercial director for East and Central Africa.
And it is not just the major handset manufacturers – like Nokia, Samsung and LG among others – that are keen to provide to get in and serve subscribers’ growing demand for dual SIM handsets.
Recently, India’s TechCom launched into the local market its own range of dual SIM handsets that would be marketed through the firm’s 20 distributors and 500 retailers in Kenya. The relatively low-priced handsets retail from US $ 28 to US $ 58 and come with a one-year warranty.
But the handset vendors need to work to stem the perception by some subscribers and s section of consumers who still believe that dual SIM handsets are substandard, and are mainly counterfeits of the genuine handset.
This is more so for a brand like Nokia, which even when it releases its genuine dual SIM handsets into the market, will still need to address the issue of non-genuine dual SIM Nokia phones in the market.
During a recent anti-counterfeit drive, Nokia’s Ken Oyolla said rigorous enforcement of anti-counterfeit laws and continuous training of law enforcers could help the region save billions in revenue annually and help consumers get value for their money.
An example here is Kenya, which is estimated to be losing over US $ 35 million annually directly through tax evasion for mobile phones at the ports of entry.