Mobile firms banned from selling locked handsets

Ruben Fields
October 28, 2020

Carriers in the United Kingdom have been barred from selling locked phones to consumers from December 2021 by communications regulator Ofcom (via BBC).

Regulator Ofcom said unlocking handsets could often be a complicated process, and this was discouraging owners from switching providers at the end of their contracts.

Additionally, almost half of all customers who try to unlock their device experience difficulties in doing so, such as a delay in getting the code they need, the code not working, or suffering a loss in service due to not realising their device was locked. The total cost of ownership of a subsidised handset that comes with a postpaid mobile phone contract is already far greater than if you had bought it on the open market. "So we're banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort - and help them unlock better deals", said Ofcom's connectivity director Selina Chadha. Ofcom said O2 started selling unlocked devices in April 2018, Virgin Mobile in 2015 and Three in 2014.

Woman on smartphone

The new rules on handset sales will apply from December 2021, with the other changes imposed from mid-2022. The rule will take effect starting in December 2021 and affect companies that still sell locked handsets, specifically EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone.

The regulator said that while customers can easily switch between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach's copper network, "customers moving to a different broadband network – such as Virgin Media, CityFibre, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic – need to manage the switch themselves". This will include, for example, contract length and prices, and broadband providers will have to tell customers the minimum internet speeds they can expect.

Ofcom said there would be a broader package of measures to support the switching process. Accessible communications formats such as braille must always be available when requested from the same date, in December of 2021. This should make it easier for customers to switch networks if they wish.

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