Carriers in the United Kingdom have been barred from selling locked phones to consumers from December 2021 by communications regulator Ofcom (via BBC). Ofcom says that its research suggested that around one-third of people who decided not to switch providers did so because they were put off by the phone unlocking process. At present, although United Kingdom networks can still apply a network lock to devices sold through their retail operations many have switched to selling unlocked generic versions already, including O2, Three, Sky Mobile, and Virgin Mobile.
"So we're banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort - and help them unlock better deals", said Chadha. Ofcom said O2 started selling unlocked devices in April 2018, Virgin Mobile in 2015 and Three in 2014.
Ofcom first announced that it would ban locked smartphone in December 2019, a year after the EU added a similar measure to the European Electronic Communications Code. Networks such as BT Group PLC's (LON:BT.A) EE division, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone PLC (LON:VOD) now sell mobile phones with this restriction.
The new rules on handset sales will apply from December 2021, with the other changes imposed from mid-2022. Hence, the new order doesn't affect them.
The ban on selling locked handsets is part of a wider consultation on making it easier for broadband and mobile customers to switch networks.
This will include aspects such as the length of the contract and prices, as well as minimum Internet speeds. At present, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach's copper network can simply contact their new provider, who will manage the switch from there.
The new rules, which will become effective from December 2021, will allow consumers to move to a different mobile network while keeping their existing handset, hassle-free, the regulator said.
The regulator said that the move would make it easier for customers to switch networks.