IN YOUR CORNER
Dual-SIM phones come with only one slot. Why?
MTN and Vodacom deliberately sell dual-SIM devices with one slot disabled. We asked them for the reason
The internet has created a global marketplace, but for SA consumers who spot stuff online and desperately want it, there are a few challenges to contend with.
Getting it here, for starters – there are high courier costs on the one hand and an unreliable postal service on the other and, in the case of electronic goods in particular, there are warranty issues.
And even when the must-have products are readily available in this country, what looks the same as the product advertised online could well turn out to be not quite.
So “grey import” cellphones look the same, but they aren’t intended for this market, so the warranty won’t be honoured by the local agents.
And so to the issue of dual-SIM smartphones.
There are obvious advantages: you get to operate two numbers – a personal one and a work one, for example – without having to carry two phones around, and they can dramatically reduce your data spend.
Putting a data SIM such as Rain in your second slot while having a SIM from another mobile operator to make and receive calls could help you save on mobile data costs.
But some South Africans have read about these dual-SIM smartphones online and bought them from local suppliers, either with cash or on contract, only to discover the second SIM slot has been disabled.
Both MTN and Vodacom have chosen to sell only devices with a single SIM enabled.
But do they disclose this to potential buyers in a hard-to-miss way, if at all?
In December 2017, Vodacom subscriber Mitch Broughton chose the dual-SIM Xiaomi 4X when he upgraded his contract, only to discover Vodacom had disabled the dual-SIM functionality.
“The ONLY notification of this is a red card inserted into the [sealed] box under the phone,” he told me at the time.
“It does not even state categorically that it’s single SIM, it just says ‘Memory card slot = Micro SD only’.
“No mention is made on the Vodacom website in the advertising or the specifications of this handset that it’s a single-SIM only model,” Broughton said.
“The rear of the box even states ‘global version – dual-SIM’ model.
“So I feel very prejudiced and misled by false advertising.”
At the time, a Vodacom spokesperson told me: “Vodacom does not advertise its Xiaomi devices as having dual-SIM functionality.
“The secondary tray in our devices is for a memory card so that customers can increase the amount of storage space on their devices.”
I went back to the network recently to find out whether its stance on dual-SIM phones had changed. It hasn’t.
“Vodacom offers an extensive portfolio of devices to ensure our customers continue to enjoy the widest selection of phones and tablets,” a spokesperson told me.
“This ranges from entry-level devices to the most sophisticated and iconic.
“Vodacom stocks devices looking at customer preferences and our stock and efficiency targets, and our research shows that Vodacom customers prefer to have the option of expanding device storage than the ability to house two Vodacom SIM cards.”
Okay, so Vodacom customers don’t want dual-SIM phones, apparently. I’d love some feedback on that from the subscribers themselves.
Much of the confusion arises from the fact that phones with the same model number may have both a single and a dual-SIM version.
Jason Holdsworth bought a Huawei P20 Lite for R5,000 cash from the MTN in Cornubia Mall, Durban, three weeks ago.
“I took the phone home to set up for my father. Huawei P20 Lites are known to be dual-SIM – as per the manufacturer’s manual – but I noticed after inserting two SIM cards that the phone only reads one of them.” When he returned the phone to the MTN store, he says he was told MTN had removed the dual-SIM functionality, and the branch manager refused to take the phone back for a refund because it was not faulty.
That’s when he turned to me for help.
I took up his case with MTN, asking about the disclosure issue, among others.
“MTN does not disable the dual-SIM functionality in the Huawei P20 Lite or any other smartphone. Rather, the company only purchases 4G devices that offer single-SIM functionality,” said corporate affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“The reason the company has chosen not to support dual-SIM functionality in our 4G devices relates to the extent to which MTN subsidises 4G smartphones.
“We choose to subsidise smartphones to make these costly devices more accessible to the public, and we spend over R1bn a year on these handset subsidies, which is why we choose not to sell dual-SIM handsets.
“Our customers are, however, still able to change SIM cards on any of the smartphones as and when needed.”
She conceded Holdsworth should have been told the device only had single-SIM functionality, and said, as an apology to him for the “frustration and inconvenience”, he would be refunded for the phone.
What about Cell C?
A spokesperson told me the network does not lock dual-SIM devices.
“Plus we have our own device called the Hurricane, which requires a Cell C SIM in the main slot, but the second slot is open to any operator.
“Customers are informed of this if they purchase the device.”
So if you’re after a dual-SIM smartphone, don’t assume the functionality is fully intact as advertised.