Ofcom Mulls Ban On Selling ‘Locked’ Phones

Mobile operators in the United Kingdom could face possible intervention from the communications regulator Ofcom in the future over the selling of locked handsets.

For years operators in the UK have sold phones that are ‘locked’ to particular mobile networks. The idea is to make it harder for users to switch networks, with users having to approach the operator directly to ‘unlock’ the device.

But now Ofcom said it is planning on banning mobile operators from selling ‘locked’ phones in the first place, as it seeks ways to make it easier for people to switch providers.

New rules

Ofcom pointed out that operators including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked.

Unlocking these handsets can cost around £10 (although sometimes the operator will unlock a handset if the user is out of contract for example).

Ofcom said that its research found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off switching providers.

Nearly half of customers who try to unlock their device find it difficult, said Ofcom.

It pointed out that users can sometimes experience a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device.

And sometimes users are given a code that does not work.

Or users could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch, Ofcom said.

So the regulator is proposing to ban mobile companies from selling locked phones, allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset.

An Ofcom reform introduced in July this year allows mobile customers to switch operator by simply sending a free text message.

“Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating,” explained Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”

Broadband switching

At the same time Ofcom also said it was planning to make easier to switch broadband service providers.

At the moment, new rules already governing broadband customers when switching.

Essentially, the new broadband provider now handles the entire switching process.

But this only applies when customers switch providers on the copper or fibre networks belonging to Openreach.

When switching to a completely separate network, for example Virgin Media or CityFibre, customers still need to contact both their new and existing service provider to co-ordinate the switch to ensure no loss of service.

Ofcom is therefore proposing to make its switching rules apply across all types of different networks.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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