How many electronic devices do you have? A smartphone, a tablet, a work phone, a laptop… How many are there in your family? Your wife, children and parents – each of them have at least one device with Internet access. A modern user needs more than one gadget, as he has to combine various patterns of using mobile devices. How not to lose your mind over dozens of rates and unpaid bills and such a fast paced life-style?
No doubt, technology achievements made us far more mobile than 10-15 years ago, but they also caused more inconveniences. For instance, we tend to overpay for services which we actually are not using in all our devices.
We are used to surfing the web on a tablet, post photos via Instagram from a smartphone and travel on business or to the countryside carrying a USB modem. Doing all this, we have to use a separate SIM card for each device with its own account and a rate plan.
Every month we have to check the balance of two or more devices which is inconvenient. We always stay confused about how much traffic we really need on each of the gadgets. In a perfect world, we would want to own a single rate plan for all mobile devices, a single account with usage details and even more – a single plan for the entire family.
According to Ericsson, during the recent year alone the global mobile data traffic has increased by 50 percent. In 2016, a smartphone in average consumed 1.9 Gb of data per month and for a tablet it was twice more, or 3.5 Gb/month. Gartner is forecasting that by 2017 there will be more tablets than PCs shipped globally. This means that smartphones and tablets will soon displace desktops and laptops (excluding work stations).
Russia is keeping pace with global trends: like millions of users globally, we actively surf the Net and use mobile devices to do that more often.
The Public Opinion Fund reports that most Russian people (47 percent) spend 1 to 3 hours a day in the Internet. Analysts of Yandex found that in late 2015 at least 84 percent of Internet users in Russia used more than one device to access the Web, e.g. a working and a home computer or a computer and a mobile device.
Over half of the audience use mobile devices along with computers and a fifth of them surf the Web only from the mobile. Young people take the lead in mobile Internet usage – around 90 percent of users under 35 regularly access the Web from their mobile gadgets.
Despite growing popularity of smartphones and tablets, PC manufacturers may rest assured that none of these devices is a perfect analog of another device. The trend of the recent 5-10 years is about multiple scenarios of using gadgets for different purposes: at work, at home, while travelling, abroad or in domestic trips.
In 2010-2011, CSPs in developed markets started thinking how to make the life of their subscribers, using many devices, easier. They launched special rate plans that were generally dubbed Multi-SIM rate plans allowed to split the whole paid traffic across several devices, e.g. a smartphone and a tablet, or a couple of smartphones. Several subscriber SIM cards were linked to a single account with a uniform rate plan, which came as a great relief to users.
Movistar, a Spanish company, was one of the first in Europe to bring a Multi-SIM marketing package to the market in 2010. Apple fans in this country were the first to get a chance to split their Internet traffic between two devices – an iPhone and an iPad. After that the option was extended to owners of Android devices.
In New Zealand, Spark, a CSP, went further by installing an online calculator in its website. You simply choose the number of devices, how much Internet traffic you need and the system returns an individual rate plan tailored to your needs. For instance, for 2 smartphones and a tablet you will have to pay 95 dollars/month.
In Russia, Beeline was the first to launch a similar option in 2014 – the Internet for all – which allowed inclusion of all subscriber's SIM cards in a single group and use one number to pay for the services. Customers would simply send an SMS request to connect their tablet, a USB modem or another phone to a single account and pay for the services through this account. Users were charged extra 5 rubles per day for each connected device.
Along with Beeline, MegaFon also recognized the benefit of using such a payment mechanism. The operator offers an option called the Shared Internet that splits Internet traffic across two or more devices (limited to five numbers owned by one user).
For CSPs the new business model became a nice opportunity to link all users' devices to a single tariff plan, compete to win customers tired of similar unlimited rates, and offer more traffic for less money. As for customers, the unified payment mechanism spares them the effort by letting them top up just one account instead of several as was the case was earlier.
Another variant of a summarizing tariff plan is a single family account and a rate plan for a group of users, e.g. a family. Family tariffs can split Internet traffic in a way that is convenient for family members. It is quite handy, if children use Internet more often than adults.
3Austria, an Austrian CSP, was one of the first to offer its customers to share their rate plan with other subscribers (maximum three subscribers). Subscribers of the American AT&T Mobile can use shared data for 10 devices (phones, tablets and other gadgets).
Besides Europe and America, such a payment mechanism is also popular in Australia and New Zealand. For instance, Vodafone in Australia introduced the option not long ago, in 2015, but already today the Red Share tariff scheme helps save up to 20 dollars of family budget per month. In Russia, MegaFon offers the Family rate plan with which total mobile budget savings can reach 50 percent.
Such a business model offers obvious advantages for customers: money savings, summarizing traffic from all devices, a single payment account and a convenient way to manage spending. For operators, the introduction of family rates is a chance to attract new and retain old customers.
For now, it is unclear how well real ARPU could benefit from the Multi-SIM option. Probably, a share of subscribers will indeed increase spending, having a possibility to share the traffic with family members and across devices.
Yet, even the simplest case of replacing a plan for a tablet and a plan for a smartphone with a single tariff seems pessimistic in terms of the average revenue per user. To calculate long-term benefit, a CSP must know if the subscriber is using the second number the whole year or tops up his tablet's balance only in summer season to go to dacha. Possibly, short-term winning from seasonal usage will be less than building a long-term customer relationship – the key focus of Multi-SIM.
The Multi-SIM boom is yet to happen, though the service is being offered by an increasing number of CSPs. If operators discover that it is indeed a good way to keep revenues high and compete with rivals in the MNP context, this service, which subscribers find very handy, will finally become standard.
For now, Multi-SIM is an option for advanced users willing to tweak their tariffs and dig up information in the depths of CSPs' websites. However, considering the progressing number of mobile devices and even stronger growth of traffic, a wide roll-out of Multi-SIM can begin in the coming years.
TWIN cards, or duplicate SIM cards sharing both the same subscriber account and the number with the main SIM card, are an interesting option with a concept that resembles Multi-SIM, but rarely used now. From operators' perspective, it is a more complex function that should be explored separately from Multi-SIM.