Ofcom

Ofcom plans to ban mobile firms selling ‘locked’ phones

Mobile phone companies will be banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets, under new Ofcom plans to make switching even simpler.

Companies including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked. Unlocking the phones can cost around £10, and Ofcom’s research has found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off.

O2, Sky, Three and Virgin all choose to sell unlocked devices to their customers.

Three UK issued the following statement in response to Ofcom’s plans to ban mobile firms from selling ‘locked’ phones.

“We don’t believe that there should be any barriers to switching mobile provider. That’s why we have supplied all our handsets unlocked at the point of sale since 2014. We welcome Ofcom’s preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three quarters of consumers find unfair.

However, there is no technical reason for a 12-month implementation period and urge them to bring their timetable forward, so that consumers can benefit from simpler switching in 2020.”

According to Ofcom, nearly half of customers who try to unlock their phone find it difficult. For example, they might face a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock it; they might be given a code that does not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.

So, Ofcom is now proposing to ban mobile companies from selling locked phones, allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free.

This follows a change in the rules, introduced in July, that means mobile customers can now switch operator by simply sending a free text message.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: 

“Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating. “

“By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”

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