Dual SIM: The freedom of choice

Dual SIM: The freedom of choice

Michal Samuels

Michal Michaels

Michal Michaels, marketing manager at Pontis, on how multi SIM ownership is driving churn and decreasing ARPU.

With mobile customers constantly roaming around the global village, it is tempting to think that operators around the world are all facing the exact same challenges in terms of retaining customers, as the prepaid market is notorious for high churn rates.   However, the customer base of Pontis tells a very different story, as mobile operators worldwide face challenges unique to their own markets.

Mobile phone users no longer need to carry around more than one mobile phone, since mobile manufacturers have created ingenious phones that are able to handle more than one SIM at any given time. For example, mobile handset manufacturer Samsung has recently announced a multi-SIM phone, where both SIMs are active simultaneously. This means that if a user is talking to someone on the first SIM gets a call on the second SIM, then the phone owner will be able to see who is calling and can accept the call on the second SIM.


Headache time

This of course presents new headaches for mobile operators, as the challenge now is about retaining customers on a full time basis. In the case of dual-SIM, customers are not necessarily going away, but if they are using SIMs from different networks in the same handset, they may become dormant for periods of time when they are utilising a competing mobile network.

One of the markets in which I have seen the popularity of dual-SIM phones rise is in Russia, which boasts the largest mobile market in Central and Eastern Europe, and is continuously growing. In May 2009 the total number of subscribers in Russia reached 194.7 million, with customers being wooed by the three major service providers, MTS, VimpelCom and MegaFon, while competition intensified with the increasing number of multiple-SIM ownerships.

The legal framework in Russia has created a unique mobile market; there are more pre-paid customers than those on contract. Further, most users have dual-SIM handsets, where both SIMs are live and users decide before each call which one to use.  


No lock and key

As the majority of handsets are not purchased through the operators but rather from independent stores, Russian mobile operators are not able to lock handsets to their networks, and as a result, customers are able to benefit from different operators’ SIMs on a daily basis. 

The power thus lies with the subscriber, making it extremely difficult for the mobile operators to lock in customer loyalty, as customers receive multiple offers from different mobile operators and are able to choose which offer to utilise. This practice results is intensifying the fierce competition between providers, as they are forced to offer attractive call rates in order to discourage users from switching to the second SIM for roaming or domestic calls.

According to InternetWorldStats, mobile SIM card penetration in Russia has surpassed 100% while actual mobile user penetration is lower. For example, at the end of May 2009, SIM cards in use in St. Petersburg showed 174 per 100 inhabitants, while in Moscow there were as many as 195 per 100 inhabitants. 


How to win

The key element in tackling dual-SIM usage is the ability to perform advanced analysis of customer behaviour. Specifically, there’s a need to detect constant usage, which points at the possibility that the user holds another SIM for specific types of calls. For example, usage of a SIM for limited phone numbers might indicate that the user has a SIM for personal use, and another SIM for work purposes. Other indicators could be destination changes such as off-net and on-net usage patterns, silent periods during the day, or balance rates.

The solution will allow providers to win back a dual-SIM holder’s share of wallet by blurring their price perception. This can be done in two ways, by offering long term flat rate tariff plans, or short term incentives such as discounts on off-net calls when talking X minutes on net calls.

As all operators provide similar plans, it is important to encourage customers to stay active by providing a relevant and personalised offer which incentivises them to move to a relevant price plan and as a result prevent temporally churn.

Pontis is the creator of the Marketing Delivery Platform (MDP), designed to enable communication service providers to maximise the marketing relevance for each customer through the dynamic adaptation of the product offer and purchase experience. http://www.pontis.com/

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