UK Telecoms Regulator Plans to Ban Sale of Locked Mobile Phones to Make Switching Networks Easier

by

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.

ofcome uk telecoms regulator
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.

Top Rated Comments

Ridge Racer Avatar
15 months ago
I've never understood why networks feel the need to lock contract phones anyway. If you've entered into a contract with the network, you're still obligated by law to pay off the contract even if you immediately choose to use the phone on another network. The network gets their money regardless.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KrisLord Avatar
15 months ago
Phone unlocking hasn’t been a huge issue for a while now, lots are sold unlocked and those locked can be unlocked promptly.

I think the unintended consequence of this could be a lack of competition on cheap handsets.

today networks can undercut each other on cheap handsets by locking the device to their network. Without this someone would buy a cheap phone from one network and use immediately on another.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
genovelle Avatar
15 months ago


Phone unlocking hasn’t been a huge issue for a while now, lots are sold unlocked and those locked can be unlocked promptly.

I think the unintended consequence of this could be a lack of competition on cheap handsets.

today networks can undercut each other on cheap handsets by locking the device to their network. Without this someone would buy a cheap phone from one network and use immediately on another.

You are right. That kills the incentive to discount the device or brings back 2 year contract lock ins. Everybody wants something for nothing, but wants to keep all the benefits.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JRobinsonJr Avatar
15 months ago


We wouldn't need this change if companies unlocked quickly and free (lots unlock for free out of contract but not everyone). Unfortunately the fact companies make unlocking difficult and charge is precisely the reason we need it. I'll still use 2 year contracts for my phones so unlocking won't really benefit during the contract but will increase the resale value of my phones.

I concur, but there is at least one scenario where locked phones are a problem: international travel. When in my home country (or home service area) it's not an issue, but if I travel somewhere else a locked phone eliminates my option to purchase an inexpensive local SIM. For me that is unacceptable. Yes, that scenario doesn't impact the majority of consumers, but it's still an issue.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Top Stories 44 Feature

Top Stories: 'Thinner and Lighter' MacBook Air, Smaller iPhone 13 Notch, iOS 14.4 Incoming

Saturday January 23, 2021 6:00 am PST by
We continued to hear a lot more about Apple's plans for its Mac lineup this week, including word of a high-end redesigned MacBook Air and the return of an SD card slot as part of the upcoming MacBook Pro redesign. It also sounds like Apple has been working on Face ID for Mac, but it won't be appearing in a redesigned iMac this year as originally planned. This week also saw rumors about the...
magsafecasedangle

Apple Elaborates on Potential for iPhone 12 and MagSafe Accessories to Interfere With Implantable Medical Devices

Saturday January 23, 2021 2:42 pm PST by
Since the launch of iPhone 12 models in October, Apple has acknowledged that the devices may cause electromagnetic interference with medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators, but the company has now shared additional information. Apple added the following paragraph to a related support document today:Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain...
Flat MacBook Air Feature

Bloomberg: Apple Working on 'Thinner and Lighter' High-End MacBook Air With MagSafe, Could Launch in Second Half of 2021

Friday January 22, 2021 3:34 am PST by
Apple is working on a "thinner and lighter" version of the MacBook Air that the company plans to release during the second half of this year at the earliest or in 2022, according to a new report by well-connected Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman. It will include Apple's MagSafe charging technology and a next-generation version of the company's in-house Mac processors. Apple has discussed...
2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Bloomberg: Next MacBook Pro to Feature SD Card Reader

Friday January 22, 2021 7:50 am PST by
Last week, reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo outlined his expectations for new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models later this year, including the return of the MagSafe charging connector, the removal of the Touch Bar, a new flat-edged design, and the return of more ports built into the notebooks for expanded connectivity. A concept of a modern MacBook Pro with an SD card reader Kuo did not...
airpods galaxy buds comparison

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs. Apple AirPods Pro

Friday January 22, 2021 2:34 pm PST by
Samsung in January unveiled new flagship Galaxy S21 smartphones and alongside the new phones, introduced the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro, which are priced at $199 and offer Active Noise Cancellation. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. These new Galaxy Buds Pro are clearly designed to compete with Apple's AirPods Pro, so we thought we'd compare the two sets of earbuds in our...
maxresdefault

Microsoft Touts Surface Pro 7 as 'The Better Choice' Over MacBook Pro in New Ad

Saturday January 23, 2021 11:02 am PST by
Microsoft yesterday shared a new ad on YouTube titled "Microsoft Surface Pro 7: The Better Choice," in which the company compares its tablet computer to Apple's 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro, as spotted by MSPoweruser. The ad highlights the Surface Pro 7's touchscreen and included stylus as opposed to only a "little bar" (the Touch Bar) on the MacBook Pro. Other advantages of the Surface Pro 7...
iOS 15 icon mock banner

iOS 15 Rumored to Drop Support for iPhone 6s and 2016 iPhone SE

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:58 am PST by
Apple's upcoming iOS 15 operating system, which we expect to see unveiled in June, is rumored to be dropping support for a few of Apple's older iPhones. According to French site iPhoneSoft, iOS 15 will not be able to be installed on the iPhone 6s, the iPhone 6s Plus, or the 2016 iPhone SE, all of which have an A9 chip. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were introduced in 2015 and are now more...
maxresdefault

Video Demos macOS Catalina Running on iPad Pro via x86 Emulation

Thursday January 21, 2021 11:36 am PST by
A video demonstrating macOS Catalina running on a current 2020 iPad Pro has been shared on YouTube, giving us a look at an interesting hack that has a Mac OS up and working on one of Apple's iPads. There's limited information about how the process of getting macOS Catalina on an iPad Pro works, but it uses x86 emulation and was done through the UTM software that allows virtual machines to...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...
iOS 14

Apple Seeds iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 Release Candidate to Developers and Public Beta Testers

Thursday January 21, 2021 10:14 am PST by
Apple today seeded the RC version of upcoming iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 updates to developers for testing purposes, with the new betas coming a week after Apple released the second betas. iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center or over the air after the proper profile has been installed on an iPhone or iPad. Paired with the HomePod 14.4 beta that is...