Dual SIM

2022, Jun 19    

Over the last few months my mobile signal has proven to be somewhat challenging, with the inability to make/receive calls and send/receive data having a negative impact on my day-to-day life. As someone who loves listening to music when outside the frequent fallback to offline mode isn't pleasing! As a complaint to my mobile provider had sadly gone nowhere I decided it was time to examine the choices available and see what could be done.

The challenge with mobile signal is that it's highly subjective and adverts of coverage being at 99% of the UK are frankly misleading as their "typical usage" pattern doesn't match that of someone trying to actively use a device for more than a basic call. For example, the ability to send/receive data is great, but only being able to do it at 1KB/s because your signal is weaker than a wet piece of string, not so much.

The area where I live is a challenge for multiple mobile providers, due in part to a lack of investment in cell coverage and an interesting mast coverage pattern (you can view these online). Purchasing a dedicated vehicle tracker had led me to investigate mobile coverage in the area, while also creating a large headache for me as a device that could roam all UK networks had barely any signal when parked on an open driveway.

The possibility of changing network provider was the obvious first choice as my current provider doesn't have good coverage where I live, however there are some drawbacks to this:

  • My current provider/plan has unlimited data (that you really can use to the extreme)
  • The benefits with my current provider/plan are very good (better than most on offer today)
  • My current provider/plan has free roaming (including my unlimited data) across the majority of the world (something that is no longer offered)
  • When in larger cities it works well and does what I pay for

The biggest of the above is the roaming part, where after a lengthy (but friendly) discussion with the provider they informed me that my plan is no longer on offer (thanks Brexit) and that its one to keep hold of given the roaming data. While there are other plans available with other providers, the sad truth is that they don't offer the same benefit (even at a higher cost).

Another potential approach would be that of using a femtocell to run my own mobile base station, however my mobile provider doesn't offer this any more and with the advent of WiFi Calling it shouldn't be needed (providing you have good WiFi and a stable internet connection).

A different approach (spoiler: which I chose) was that of using a new eSIM in my mobile device that is dedicated to only data. Of course with this comes the inevitable choice of which network to use, which could be viewed as a crap-shoot depending on where I am travelling to. Or does it...

Many months prior a colleague of mine had mentioned a company called Anywhere who sell a PAYG SIM that can roam across most (if not all) UK networks, providing coverage wherever you are (in theory). This sounds great however it's not in eSIM form so wouldn't fix my challenge. I figured an email to to them to ask about eSIM support was worth a try and thankfully I received a quick response indicating they had just launched an eSIM offering for this service. Success!

One eSIM later and my mobile device was showing as being connected to two mobile networks. As an added bonus while sitting at home (as a test) I could see the eSIM connection showing full strength (in comparison to my primary provider showing significantly less). In theory my connectivity issues (at least for data) had been solved and providing my account has credit I should always be reachable.

Sadly theory and reality aren't always that aligned with each other, and this instance is no different. While my phone shows how bad my signal is frequently, the switch between networks for data usage only occurs when there is literally no connection to the primary mobile provider. This means that even if you have a 1-bar connection that is unable to actually send/receive data the device won't switch to the reliable network.

After going through all of the configuration settings to see if anything could be changed to override this behaviour, the sad answer is no, it is how the mobile device functions. Checking my data usage stats on the data connection (using the providers dashboard) shows that I have used so little data it's painfully amusing. Unfortunately I have also been in locations where the device has held onto a single bar of signal on the primary connection meaning I still don't have data available, and no way to force the switch.

So where do I stand with this: the concept is great in principal, but sadly is limited by that of the device/handset. I can see where this makes perfect sense when travelling abroad and wanting to leverage a cheaper local provider for data (where you switch it to data only on the secondary connection), but for my situation sadly it doesn't work as one would hope.