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Dual-SIM phones are amazing, but in the U.S., carriers hate them

Honor 8 dual Sim phone
Honor 8 dual Sim phone (Image credit: Android Central)

A dual-SIM phone — one where you have two different lines of service available (almost) at once — can be a very useful thing. It allows you to have a business number and a personal number on the same device and you can use two carriers to make sure you always have coverage. They're a common thing in many parts of the world, but rare for phones marketed to the United States.

You might think that these reasons sound great and are wondering why you can't just head to the T-Mobile store and grab a new Galaxy Note 20 that's dual-SIM capable. You're not alone. It all boils down to two things — an actual need and the fact that U.S. carriers don't like the idea.

The U.S. mobile market is different

Verizon Map

Source: Verizon (Image credit: Source: Verizon)

In the States, there are three nationwide carriers as well as many smaller regional carriers that mostly piggy-back on them. These are fully private (and largely unregulated when it comes to business practices) companies even though they often receive federal funding for expansion and maintenance costs.

The actual geography of the U.S. is different, too. Here in the U.S., you'll find huge areas of little or no population but these places still have service for the most part. We've all been to dead spots, but you can usually get a signal from at least one carrier everywhere you'll ever go. Carriers use this as a reason to charge so much more than the rest of the world when it comes to a cell phone plan, and we can't say they're wrong — maintaining a network where nobody lives to use it and pay for it means the rest of the country gets to pay more.

The U.S. is different (and weird) when it comes to the mobile market.

Many parts of the world aren't like this. Throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America you'll find things like small regional independent carriers, places where they are no coverage and no plans to expand to include it, and highly regulated government-backed companies that provide cell service.

This helps keeps costs lower and makes a dual-SIM phone something many people actually need. You can drive or take a train for just a few hours and end up somewhere that you would be roaming or even a place where your service can't work because it's government-sponsored for a specific region. You'll also need a satellite phone for many places, which is something we don't have to worry about.

This will be a very unpopular opinion, but because the U.S. has nationwide coverage from most carriers and because service is so expensive, we don't need dual-SIM phones. I've used one and they can be really handy, but options like Google Voice can do the same thing. This opinion would be different if roaming was still a big thing or if the government decided Verizon could only work in a few specific states. We might want to see dual-SIM phones in those cases, but we don't really need them unless we do a lot of international travel or live close to the border with Canada or Mexico.

Your phone was built for a carrier

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert

Source: T-Mobile (Image credit: Source: T-Mobile)

Another thing that's common in the U.S. but not so much in the rest of the world is how we buy our phones — directly from a carrier through a service contract or a financing option.

In the U.S., most high-end phones are sold to carriers, not consumers.

That means Samsung, for example, makes phones for marketing in the States the way carriers like them to be made because the carriers are its actual customer. Luckily, most of the things the carrier wants to see are the things we like to see: big bright screens, fast network speeds, and extras like waterproofing or wireless charging.

One of the things the carriers do not like is dual-SIM capability. When you buy a phone from Verizon or T-Mobile, you pay them for it but they did not get it for free. A carrier makes most of its money by selling you service, so giving you the ability to buy a phone and use another company for cell service cuts into the bottom line.

Carriers care more about locking you in that selling you a phone.

This is also why carriers used to only sell locked phones and fought so hard against eSIM technology — both make it easy to buy a new phone and use it somewhere else and it means you might not have to buy a new phone if you switch. Carriers love nothing more than keeping a customer locked in year after year and getting that $100 or more you spend every month.

Since most people don't switch carriers, this system works for the most part. Even business travelers will often just buy an international roaming package from their carrier and not care about having a dual-SIM phone unless they visit a place like China where network bands are very different.

You can find them if you look for them

Dual-SIM phones are available in the U.S. even if they aren't very well advertised. You'll find them unlocked on places like Amazon or eBay from many different manufacturers. With eSIM technology, where a virtual SIM card can be downloaded from a carrier, phones like the Google Pixel 4 are also dual-SIM capable.

You can find dual-SIM phones if you go looking for them.

You can also buy a phone directly from its manufacturer and get a dual-SIM model that works with U.S. carriers, though that may mean you're paying full-price all at once. Samsung (opens in new tab) and OnePlus (opens in new tab) are great options for this.

Most people in the U.S. don't need a dual-SIM phone, but life is boring if you can only have what you need. If you really do need one, or just want one, you still have options.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

7 Comments
  • For most city/suburban dwellers who mainly travel the interstates and main highways, there's a perception that there's universal cellular coverage in the US. However, being someone who actually travels into many rural areas regularly, I can attest that there are many more areas with no cellular coverage than this article implies, especially in western states. In fact, Verizon's purchase of Alltel made matters much worse in some rural areas that had had Alltel analog coverage since neither Verizon or AT&T wanted to invest in digital cellular network build outs in these areas and legislators and regulators let them ignore public interests over profit. I will give credit to T Mobile for installing new towers in areas ignored by Verizon and AT&T. FYI, I'm one of the many US consumers who purchase my phones on the open market, not carriers and I currently use a dual SIM phone with a micro SD card that has all US 4G LTE bands, a phone not covered by tech sites because it"s not Samsung or Apple. It"s sad that tech sites have just become pitchmen for over-priced products from just a few companies.
  • I've always wondered if I could use Straight Talk on a dual SIM phone, and use both the at&t and Verizon network SIM cards, tied to the same account. I haven't even bothered asking anyone at the store, since, well, you know.... Most of them can barely setup a phone with one SIM card. I helped my (now ex) father-in-law pick out a phone and get straight talk. It took an HOUR for them to figure it out and get it set up.
    But being able to use two different networks and having one account would be awesome.
  • It's an ugly game that the carriers and most cell phone manufacturers are playing. You always have to read the fine print. Samsung for instance advertises the S20 line as eSIM capable but none of the S20 phones sold in the US - not even if you buy a non carrier specific S20 phone from Samsung US - is eSIM enabled.
  • NO!! The OnePlus 8 Pro is NOT DUAL SIM in the US!! You need to make that clarification before someone buys it. It said "coming soon" and launch and is STILL not supported. It's the reason I sent my OP8P back and still using my OP7P. Supposedly now after saying "oh it'll be in the next update" for months, it's not coming until Android 11.
  • So, you’re recommending a phone that does not support dual-SIMs in the U.S., despite the article focuses on the U.S. It’s either poor research by the author, or a unified effort between Android Central and OnePlus to continue to fleece individuals who believed that OnePlus’ materials stating that dual-SIM capability is inherent to the phone. (In U.S. sales materials.) As noted by another individual, OnePlus has “promised” to have this capability available for months, and has failed to deliver...or even comment publicly on when/if they will meet their commitment. I generally have viewed Android Central as a credible source of information. But, aligning themselves with the NEW OnePlus (the company that misleads prospective buyers, and current owners) erodes Android Central’s credibility.
  • Hi from Europe, I've been using dual SIM phones since 2013, so, work and private lines in one device. I would never carry two phones again. It was useful as well in the pre-free-Europe-roaming era, arriving in a country, buying a local SIM card just for the Internets.
  • Profits over people's experience. It's the American way!