The forgotten feature BlackBerry needs: How dual SIM could help RIM

The forgotten feature BlackBerry needs: How dual SIM could help RIM

Summary: BlackBerry is not the coolest brand in consumers' eyes, and while it's starting to lose ground in the enterprise to Android and iOS devices, there's still a strong starting point to reassert dominance, if it can make the right moves. Could a dual-SIM phone help?


Research In Motion is not having a good year — in fact, it's not been having a good year for a few years now — but it could still be missing an easy win, a simple feature that could help differentiate its BlackBerry handsets in the crowded mobile market.

I don't believe that RIM's problems are as bad as some make out. It still has a strong presence in the enterprise and a valuable patent portfolio to boot; but it's undeniable that the company needs to do something significant, and do it soon, if it wants to keep any relevance in the mobile marketplace.

For a good while, the company has seemed a little split in its focus: enterprise is its heritage, but BYOD and consumer markets are where the cool kids play — the Apples and Samsungs that shareholders love, and device makers seek to emulate.

The BlackBerry 10 OS home screen
The BlackBerry 10 OS home screen. Photo Credit: Ben Woods/ZDNet

Despite reassurances that enterprise will always be a priority for the company, RIM has continued to persevere in making more consumer-focused devices, most of which could be deemed a flop.

Remember the Storm and Storm 2? No? Nor would most people — they were announced, released and then died quietly in a corner, annoying plenty of people along the way with an ill-conceived 'clickable' screen design. That was RIM's best effort at getting into the touchscreen consumer market and it was far from a successful one.

Missing a trick

However, I think RIM is missing a trick to carve out a niche for itself that would perfectly fulfil its BYOD aspirations as well as reassuring its enterprise customers that it has a game plan for the business market.

It's actually a really simple suggestion: just make a few high-spec dual-SIM handset models and sell them in markets that have almost no devices with such functionality, like Europe.

The bonus of a dual SIM is obviously that you can have your work and personal numbers accessible at all times without needing to carry around two phones or keep swapping SIM cards. (Obviously there are a lot of unified comms products, or even more basic services built into current-generation phones that could simply forward a call from one number to another, but it's not a very elegant solution if you want both numbers to be accessible at certain times, and it's not really the point.)

In the UK, very few dual SIM phones are available, and the ones that are tend to be feature phones (at best) or so-called 'dumb' phones, neither of which fulfils high-end consumer desire or enterprise demand.

It's not that the devices don't exist (there are plenty in the Far East) but even so, they still tend to be low-end devices, aimed at... well, it's not really clear.

An untapped market?

Currently, there are almost no actual smartphones that use dual SIM. It's an unchallenged sector of the market right now, but it might not stay that way forever. HTC seems to have noticed it; its dual-SIM Desire V will be making its way to mainland Europe, though it's not coming to the UK.

But before other mobile makers wake up to the untapped market in front of them, it's ripe for RIM's taking. A dual-SIM BlackBerry would be perfect for the BYOD crowd — users might want the convenience of using their own device, but that might not be the same thing as using their own phone number. RIM already knows the virtue of keeping a work-life balance, and dual SIM fits this ethos perfectly.

A RIM spokeswoman confirmed to me on Thursday that it doesn't currently make any dual-SIM phones, but didn't give a reason as to why.

I'm not suggesting that adding dual-SIM slots to its phones will be RIM's silver bullet — delivering BlackBerry 10 before the end of 2012 would have helped more — but dual SIM could give business users a reason not to move to iOS and Android, while still acting as the bridge between the consumer and enterprise markets that RIM needs to get its ultimately still quite business-like phones in the hands of more consumers.

If nothing else, it would make a BlackBerry smartphone running the BlackBerry 10 OS the only obvious choice for a business user who wants a dual-SIM handset. Moreover, a virtually uncontested market shouldn't be sniffed at.

After all, the company is essentially now known as pretty much the only place to go if you want a smartphone with a keyboard (at least in Europe), so why not add another hardware trademark to its line-up?

If I was in charge of RIM right now, I'd want all the easy wins I could get.

Topics: BlackBerry, Mobility, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • This is an idea of which RIM should take immediate notice.

    Almost all of RIM's core business users have to carry around a second mobile phone for their personal number and vice versa - this is the answer - RIM please note and it would be great to hear your response to this idea.
    Al-Harith Sinclair
    • How do so many other people

      make due with one phone?
      William Farrel
      • I have 2 phones

        One for work and one for personal and quite a few of my coworkers do the same as 1) It's against corporate policy to use the work device for personal business , 2) I - and others I've spoken to - prefer to keep their work and personal life separate, and 3) My job pays for my work phone.
        • Also true for tax purposes

          You can't write it off if you use the phone for personal needs.
      • Good question William

        I am sure it varies from person to person, job to job and employer to employer. My employer (a typical Blackberry using company with over 1000 employees) requires me to carry around two phones, a Blackberry with one country's SIM and an ordinary mobile phone with another country's SIM. This is because I frequently travel between offices and it saves my employer costs for me to use the right one in the right country. I would love to have those two sims from my employer in one phone. I also have two personal SIMs which I would love to stick in one phone. Trust me William, no one likes carrying around more than one phone if they can avoid it:)
        Al-Harith Sinclair
        • your needs are already covered...

          your needs are already covered with a dualSim device, you put two sims in a speacial sim-sized holder and you can switch between them via software.

          You don't even need that for the business phones as one phone could easily have its sim swapped when leaving the country
    • RIM execs are just frozen

      They won't listen, this is not the first time RIM gets free advice on how to improve their phones and they keep on marching to their extintion. I bet a Dollar they won't do it.
  • becoming yet another dual sim handset oem wont help them

    nokia went dual without much result. no reason to think rim would get any better
    Johnny Vegas
    • NOKIA's dual sim phones do well

      NOKIA only released their dual sim Ashas in certain markets (developing world mostly), where they have been released they have sold well.

      Hence NOKIA's feature phone division exceeded expectations last quarter.
  • Yes but...

    It exists the blackberry balance solution yet.

    But indeed it could be a good idea anyway.
  • they're not a huge company in the US yet, but

    BLU makes a lot of android dual SIM phones, and they're becoming a bigger player in the US every year. dual SIM isn't unique enough to keep RIM afloat anymore I think. RIM might just have to accept that they've lost the hardware market, and start licensing their OS, BBM, and their security services. Whether they ditch the hardware branch of the company or not though, building up the app list of BB10 needs to be their #1 priority.
  • They would lose carrier support

    Carriers are unlikely to subsidise phones that promote promiscuity.
    • Not necessarilly. Doesn't mean you're using 2 different carriers.

      I had Motorola Star-Tacs...remember those (?)...that had "Dual-NAM" capability with the same carrier, AT&T at the time. I had two separate numbers in one phone, and could easily toggle between the two. AT&T were very happy to have me paying for two separate lines.

      Also had the same feature with a Motorola V9m with VZW, but never used it.
    • A business would simply buy the units unlocked.

      I imagine.

      Or how about 1 sim card carrier locked, and the other sim card unlocked.

      Either option solves your issue.
      • Your option 2 is exactly what the carriers wont want

        Your Option 2 is exactly what the carriers wont want, to subsidise a phone that's not only generating a profit for a competitor but potentially acting as a gateway to their competitor's service.

        Buying an unlocked handset outright is an option but what percentage of handsets are sold that way?

        Top end smartphones are expensive and carriers don't give their on contract customers much of a discount (if anything) on their monthly fee if they have their own device.

        My guess is the reason dual sims are mainly found on feature phones is because those are the kinds of devices people who don't want a contract buy.
        • He has a point...

          BlackBerry can act as the subsidizer for companies that have BES, since it's a subscription model.

          Regardless, companies most of the time buy BlackBerries at full retail price or rent them just like PCs to avoid impact on the bottom line due to plan cancellation restrictions. Most prefer to pay cash upfront than impact the TCO measurement of devices given to employees.

          Alas, a dual SIM (one locked and one unlocked) under a BYOD situation makes perfect sense for users as it won't have in practice an imposed minimum month plan. I think a 50% can be extracted by RIM.

          BTW. I don't think this is the key but rather a "strategy" revolving around it and also, by preventing the apparent "waterdown" which is being imposed on QNX's PlayBook OS to convert it into BB 10.
  • Can't wrap this around my brain....

    So, you buy a personal smartphone, say on of the droid options, get it subsidized with a 2 year plan. Then you do the thing with the business phone (or it's supplied by the company). Then you remove the sim from your personal phone and insert it into the business phone.

    Do you have a Work / Home selection on the home screen that selects which sim to use? Are the contacts stored on the device or each sim? It's sounds kinda cool if the UI would work smoothly.

    However, you still end up paying for 2 devices. I would rather use 1 (like my iPhone) where I separate out contacts to avoid confusion. Since I am both the business and the consumer it works for me.
    • presumably

      presumably the people doing this would, A) be the owners of their own business, or B) have an off contract sim card without paying for a phone.
    • ....

      Yeah your way off there. Dual sim card phones are nice to have especdially if your international traveling. you can set the phone to use either sim card in the phone on the screen some even allow both numbers to be live and ring the phone so set 2 different ring tones and you know instantly its a work or personal call.The os works just like normal and things like text and call logs are sepearted by sim and number that was called. Yes contacts are stored on your sim cards so no issue there. The reason this would work for blackberry as most are business phones so the company pays for it but you could put your personal sim in also and carry one phone. That said there are a ton of dual sim phones its a huge market flooded with dual sim phones coming from china and europe not sure why the author doesn't know that so its been tapped well for years. i used to get BB Storm clones with dual sims and tv tuners for under $85 each. What BB has to do is make a consumer. corp hybred phone. I large 4.5 screen touch with a very nice uncluttered slide out keyboard. Not verticle slide muct be horrizontal. Then they have to fix up the os so its not so unfriendly to use and I see tiles in the pic of os 10 which is what is killing windows phones so dump that crap quick.. I would say go to a different os but make the key blackberry features integrated into it ie BBM and such.It must carry the best of the BB world and mix with the stuff any other smartphone does such as android...As just a standard BB with dual sims its a no go. Would even be nice to have a sim and cdma hybred unlocked BB so in the US you could use say Sprint or verizon but on travel a quick pop in of a prepaid local sim saves you money.
  • few dual-SIM smartphones? really?

    eBay, Aliexpress, and other megavendors are glutted with dual-SIM smartphones. the past 6 weeks have seen the introduction of at least four smartphones with 6-inch displays (the N9776, N9880, i9800, and Carpad Note5 F6). And 5.3-inch phones are now entering the market with 960 x 540 displays that are arguably sharper than Samsung's pentile. Every one of these phones can accept dual SIMS, the second in standby mode.

    I've ordered an N9880. But I can't see paying for two plans at once. Now if someone offered a plan for x number of minutes or gigabytes that don't expire after 30 days, I'd load it in slot 2 to give me more coverage.