Ban on selling ‘locked’ mobile phones

Regulatory /

Ofcom plans to ban the selling of 'locked' mobile phones

Some of the UK Mobile Phone providers sell locked mobile phones so they cannot be used on another network. This means that customers who want to switch providers but use the same device, have to go through additional hurdles and can actually put people off from switching providers altogether.

Ofcom is now proposing to ban the sale of locked mobile devices to remove this extra hurdle for customers.

The problem of switching providers

In the UK there are currently four big Mobile Phone providers who sell locked mobile devices: EE, BT Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone.

A locked mobile device cannot be used on another network unless it is unlocked, which can cost up to £10 per device.

Ofcom research has shown that more than 30% of people who decided not to switch providers said that this cost put them off.

In addition, almost 50% of people who try to unlock their device encounter problems or find it difficult. For example, some people experience delays in receiving the code that is needed to unlock a device; some people receive a code that doesn’t work; some people suffer a loss of service, and some people don’t realise that their mobile device is locked before they attempt to switch providers.

So Ofcom is proposing to ban the sale of locked mobile devices, allowing people to move to a different provider or network with their existing device, hassle-free.

Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating. By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom's Consumer Group Director

Next steps

This work is part of the proposals to implement the new European Electronic Communications Code.