Ofcom wants to ban sale of locked phones

Phone and laptop
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Mobile operators are set to be banned from issuing locked handsets to customers under new proposals issued by Ofcom.

Locked handsets cannot be used on any other network, making it more difficult to change provider. Unlocked devices are offered by some operators but EE and Vodafone are cited as examples of those that have persisted with the practice.

It is possible to unlock a locked device, a process which typically costs around £10, but Ofcom says its research shows many consumers find this a significant barrier.

Ofcom unlocked phones

A third said they were put off by having to get their device unlocked or having to wait a long time to receive a code, while others are concerned about a loss of service.

Ofcom says the proposals would build on recent legislation that allows mobile users to switch network via text message and keep the same phone number.

“Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom 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.”

Separately, Ofcom is proposing to make it easier to switch broadband providers. Currently, measures only extend to operators that use Openreach’s infrastructure, but the regulator wants this to cover altnets like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, as well as cable services from Virgin Media.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.