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TRAVEL TECH: Dual-SIM cell phones

If you travel the world — or plan to — this is what your future looks like for handheld communications.

Nerd. Freak. Gadget geek. Call me whatever, but I’m always on the lookout for something new to make the traveler’s life easier.

The dual-SIM cell phone definitely falls into that category.

(The one shown here is the Samsung C3222 quad-band dual-SIM mobile phone. For purposes of illustration only.)

Odds are you already know about SIM cards and mobile phones, especially if you’re a regular IBIT reader.

SIM cards are actually the computer chip that contains your phone number and usable minutes on cell phones that run on GSM operating systems.

(This differs from phones that run on CDMA technology that lock you in to a single provider — like, say, Verizon Wireless in the United States. Most of the world’s cell phones are GSM-based. The only big CDMA users are us and China.)

GSM phones let you swap out SIM cards anytime you like. So if you have a GSM-based phone in the United States and you’re traveling abroad, no need to buy a different phone just to use in a different country.

Just take out your US-based SIM card, buy a cheap local SIM card at your destination and slide it in. Instantly, you have a local phone in a foreign country, complete with your own phone number. When you go home, switch back. Pretty cool, huh?

But as always with technology, there’s always somebody out there asking, “What if?”

As in, “What if you could make a cell phone that could hold two different SIM cards at the same time?”

You ask, technology answers. Enter the dual-SIM cell phone.

Simply put, it’s a cell phone with two SIM card slots, enabling you to install two different SIM cards from two different cell service providers at the same time.

Now, you’ve got one phone with two different phone numbers, two different providers, that works in two different countries. No more cracking the thing open, changing SIM cards and having to reboot the phone after you close it up again.

Just turn it on and you’re good to go. One’s in use; the other’s on standby, which is why these devices also are known as standby dual-SIM phones.

Switching between them is as easy as pushing a few buttons on your phone. Sounds lovely, does it not?

But we’re just warming up here.

The first generation of dual-SIM phones started coming out a decade or so ago outside the United States (you Verizon users, feel free to start gnashing your teeth now), and users in Europe and Asia have enjoyed them for years.

But as those of us old enough to remember floppy drives can tell you, technology not only doesn’t stand still, it doesn’t even take coffee breaks.

Which is why we’re now seeing something out there called active dual-SIM cell phones.

Which means both your SIM cards, each on its own plan and with its own phone number,are working in your one phone at the same time.

Don’t get comfortable yet. We’re not done.

Nowadays, you can even find triple-SIM card phones. Yep, one phone, three different SIM cards. Simultaneously.

You almost need a calculator to comprehend the amount of flexibility this gives you:

  • A single phone that works in two or even three different countries, locally.
  • A single phone that can work off multiple calling plans from the same provider, if you choose.
  • Run 2G, 3G or possibly even 4G cell phone networks off the same phone, at the same time.
  • Simultaneously make/receive phone calls while listening to music, cruising the Internet or doing something else.
  • Your own conference calls with multiple callers across multiple cell networks, at the same time.

When you look at all the possibilities, the mind reels.

As with anything else in life, there are tradeoffs. The big tradeoff with dual-SIM cell phones is battery life. It goes down substantially, by a third or more.

So far, I’ve seen dual-SIM phones on sale online for about $80. And those were quad-band phones, which means they work on all four GSM frequencies — which means they should work just about any place on planet Earth where there’s at least one cell phone tower within range.

The key, of course, is that it be an unlocked phone, not electronically chained to Verizon or any other mobile phone service provider.

The shorter battery life is potentially a major pain inthe Southern Hemisphere, so to speak — especially if you’re a long way from home. But when you consider all the freedom, power and control that they give you, it just might be worth it.

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