Mobile providers could be banned from selling locked phones under new proposals

17 December 2019

The move could make it easier for mobile users to switch networks and get a better deal

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Mobile phone firms could be banned from selling locked handsets under new proposals announced by regulator Ofcom.

Some companies, such as BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone, still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked, which can cost around £10.

As locked phones stop consumers switching to a rival, they could be potentially missing out on a better deal. More than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off according to Ofcom. 

It found nearly half of customers who try to unlock their device find it difficult. Respondents complained about experiencing long delays before getting a code to unlock their device and being given codes that didn’t work.

Customers did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch were also unhappy about the loss of service.

Ofcom hopes that the proposed ban will allow people to move to a different network with their existing handset more easily.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, says: “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.”

Matt Powell, editor at Broadband Genie, says: "Ofcom's proposed ban on network-locked handsets removes the last significant barrier preventing people from switching mobile providers.

“These rules will mean that UK mobile users can freely - and very quickly - swap mobile phone plans to get the best price and service.

"As such, networks will have to work harder than ever to retain loyal subscribers, not only relying on great deals but also offering outstanding customer service and network coverage."

Why unlock your phone?

An unlocked phone can operate on any network provider – all you have to do is switch the SIM card. If your phone is locked when you buy it you won’t be able to change network providers.

This means you won’t be able to switch to a cheaper deal with a different provider that offers you more minutes and data. You may also find it easier to sell your phone if it is unlocked.

Remember though, if you a still under contract with a mobile provider you will have to pay that until it runs out.

Unlocking phones

Sky, Three, Virgin Mobile and O2 all sell handsets that are unlocked. EE, BT Mobile and Vodafone sell handsets which are locked and cannot be used on other networks.

Tesco Mobile also locks most of its pay-as-you-go and pay monthly handsets.

You can check if your phone is unlocked by trying a different SIM card in it. If you are unable to make calls on it, your phone may be locked.

Broadband switching

Ofcom is also planning to make it easier to switch between broadband networks.

Customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can already follow a simple process, where their new provider manages the switch.

However, customers moving to a different broadband network need to contact their existing and new provider to co-ordinate the switch and make sure there is no gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.

Providers would also have to compensate customers if things go wrong and they are left without a service for more than one working day.

The regulator is also proposing to ban notice-period charges beyond the switch date.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, says: “As more new fibre networks start offering services to consumers, it’s vital that switching processes keep up with the increased choice.

"Ensuring that switches are always done automatically, and are smoothly coordinated by the new company, will help ensure that people are not put off moving to better services.

“However, the devil is in the detail and we need to see exactly how industry translates these proposed new principles into a switching system that really works for consumers.”

Comments

Unlocked phones

Who wrote this article? Providers must immediately unlock the phone when you ask them to and this has been so for many years thanks to EU Laws.
As for paying to the end of the contract.
Under EU you only need to pay the next 30 days of it if you have already had it for a year. Once again the EU protecting us consumers.

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