U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom has drawn up plans to ban the sale of locked smartphone handsets that can't be used on other mobile networks until the owner pays for them to be unlocked.
The proposal is part of a consultation document published today that aims to achieve fairer treatment and easier switching for broadband and mobile customers in the U.K. The document reads:
Some providers sell locked devices so they cannot be used on another network. If customers want to keep using the same device after they switch, this practice creates additional hassle and can put someone off from switching altogether. We are proposing to ban the sale of locked mobile devices to remove this hurdle for customers.
Ofcom notes that, currently, BT Mobile/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone sell devices that are locked and cannot be used on other networks until they are unlocked. Meanwhile, O2, Sky, Three and Virgin Mobile choose to sell unlocked devices to their customers.
The regulator's research found that just under half of mobile customers experience some sort of problem, such as a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device, being given a code that doesn't work, a loss of service if they didn't realize their device was locked before they tried to switch.
Meanwhile, to make broadband switching easier, Ofcom plans to require a customer's new broadband provider to lead the switch, and offer a seamless switching experience, regardless of whether they are moving across different fixed networks (for example, between Virgin Media and a provider using the Openreach network) or between providers of ultrafast broadband services on the same fixed network. The plan comes as there are currently no regulated processes in place for these types of switches.
If the consultation period goes smoothly, the proposals could become law in the first quarter of 2020 or 2021. The plans are a response to changes to the European regulatory framework. The Government consulted earlier this year on how to reflect these changes in UK law.