Why carrying two phones has become a social embarrassment

Last week was Mobile World Congress, where over 100,000 delegates from around the world descended on the Spanish city of Barcelona, to experience some of the latest innovations in mobile technologies.

Mobile World Congress started in 1987 at a time when colloquial ‘bricks’ were still being carried around by businessmen and politicians. Movies such as Wall Street in the same year instantly made these oversized phones everlasting icons synonymous with power and finance.

Yet this status symbol has evolved radically, with the BlackBerry dominating boardroom tables for decades. It also became the de-facto handset for many IT departments, who invested heavily in BlackBerry Enterprise Servers to support their mobile estate.

But as the smartphone market developed, not least with the growth of the iPhone, many people sought second phones that offered better web browsing, camera quality and choice of apps. There was a time about five years ago when having both an iPhone and BlackBerry at a dinner party was the prerequisite for the “which line of business are you in?” question. This conversation point became the birthplace of the ‘two phone’ status symbol as we know it.

Although today, most of us would prefer to have just one phone – choosing our personal mobile over our business phone, which very often is inferior and frankly a hassle to carry around.

At MWC, we have seen the latest flagship phones coming out of Barcelona such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – offering extended memory, a top-end camera and faster response times. If you’re carrying one of these, why would you want to carry a separate, three year old BlackBerry Q10?

The two phone status symbol is disappearing and is fast becoming a social embarrassment. In fact, at the last dinner party I was invited to, the other guests openly mocked their own business-issued, second phones.

In response, and largely to save cost, some businesses have adopted mobile policies such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Corporate Owned Personally Enabled (COPE). With these, staff carry only one device – either personally owned or company owned. However the obvious problem of this approach is that you cannot have two numbers on one phone - therefore you cannot separate your personal and business calls, messages and billing.

There is an additional limitation if you’re employed in a regulated industry such as financial services, where your mobile calls have to be recorded. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) already mandates that anyone directly involved in equity trading must have mobile calls recorded. This currently applies to over 30,000 workers in the City of London.

However new European rules known as MiFID II specify that anyone providing advice that may lead to a trade will need to have their mobile phone calls recorded and archived for five years. The new rules will broaden the scope to around 500,000 people in the UK, including Independent Financial Advisers, commodity traders and many more who were not previously required to do so.

This presents a real challenge, since whilst there will be a dramatic rise in the number of people needing to have their calls recorded, and these people don’t want to carry two phone, another piece of EU legislation is being bought in to tighten up data protection. The new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will clarify that it is illegal for businesses to record and store personal calls – even if made on business owned devices – with fines of up to 4 per cent of global turnover for non compliance.

But does this mean that two phones is the only solution? Not any more.

Instead of carrying two phones, a much smarter approach is to carry a single phone which has two separate mobile numbers. In that way, business contacts can reach you on one number, while friends and family call another. And so it goes for outbound calls too – you can select which number is presented depending upon which number you call out from.

With a ‘two numbers, one phone’ model, business calls are billed directly to the company, while personal calls are charged to the user. Gone are the days of running slide rules against mobile phone bills to claim expenses. Keeping two phones charged will soon be a frustration of the past.

There are clear business benefits too, since a two numbers approach means that as staff leave the business – taking their personal mobile number with them – the company retains the business number. And in the world of customer service if you keep the number, you keep the customer.

BT smartnumbers is a unique and very innovative service which provides any smartphone with a second mobile number, allowing one number to be used for business calls, the other for personal calls. Both of these are full GSM mobile numbers – capable of calling or texting wherever there is a mobile signal.

Our service means that business calls and SMS are entirely ring-fenced from personal conversations. Better still, BT smartnumbers work across any UK mobile network, meaning that individuals can keep their SIM, tariff and their mobile number. It also enables compliance in regulated sectors where call recording is mandated, as only business calls are recorded.

Some 14 million people in the UK carry two mobile phones to separate their business and personal communications. With the average cost of ownership of a corporate mobile phone at £32 per month, that represents £5.5 billion of unnecessary spend.

This is not only inconvenient to staff who have to carry two devices and expensive to the company which provided them, it’s also environmentally irresponsible. In a world where two numbers on one handset is now possible, there is no longer a need to carry two handsets.

The business mobile status symbol of tomorrow will be defined by the handset which we choose to carry. Not by how many handsets we’re forced to carry.

James Foley, vice president of customer experience at BT smartnumbers

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Africa Studio