Mobile networks banned from selling locked smartphones

Hannah Boland
·2-min read
mobile phone - Philip Toscano/PA
mobile phone - Philip Toscano/PA

Mobile phone operators will be banned from selling 'locked' handsets from next year to make it easier for customers to switch providers.

Telecom regulator Ofcom said under the new rules, companies including EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone would not be able to sell mobiles which could only work on their networks.

Those phones could be unlocked previously, but the process was potentially complicated and could cost customers around £10. In around half of cases, customers had difficulties in switching providers. 

Ofcom's research had found that more than a third of people who had decided against switching said this process had put them off. A ban had first been mooted last year, with a consultation having since taken place. 

Ofcom's Selina Chadha said the new rules, which come into force in December 2021, would save "people time, money and effort".

It follows earlier efforts by the regulator to make it easier for people to switch providers and receive possibly better deals, including "text-to-switch" rules brought in last year to allow users to change providers via text. 

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch.com, said that  "despite some modest improvements to the process, unlocking, when required, is often a pain". 

He said that the new 'locking' ban would "finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice".

The ban comes as part of a package of measures to help customers, such as giving them a full summary of their contract, including things such as length and price. 

Ofcom said it was also planning to kick off a consultation into its plans to make it easier for broadband customers to switch providers soon. 

It said currently people could request to switch providers on Openreach's network, such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk, easily by contacting a new provider, but that those customers planning to switch to a different broadband network, such as  CityFibre or Virgin Media, were having to coordinate between the two providers and manage the switch themselves. 

Mr Neudegg said: "Reform of the switching system will be vital, with new full fibre networks being rolled out across the country. And as the industry has so far failed to agree to a new process, all eyes will be on the regulator to see how this will work in practice.”

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