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Watchdog Recommends Ban on ‘Locked’ Mobile Phone Sales

Ross Kelly

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Woman using Mobile Phone

Some of the UK’s most popular mobile network operators still continue to sell ‘locked’ handsets. 

New proposals from Ofcom could see mobile network operators prevented from selling ‘locked’ handsets to consumers.

The plans could make it easier for consumers across the UK to switch between mobile phone networks, the telecoms watchdog said.

In July this year, Ofcom announced rule changes which mean customers are able to change operator by sending a free message.

Commenting on the proposals, Ofcom’s consumer group director, Lindsey Fussel, said: “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.”

Currently, companies including Vodafone, Tesco Mobile and BT/EE sell mobile phones which cannot be used on other networks.

Network operators such as O2, Three, Sky and Virgin sell unlocked devices to their customers.

Customers can ‘unlock’ the phones, and thus allow them to use an alternative network. This process can cost £10, however, and research conducted by Ofcom suggests that more than one-third of people choose not to switch due to the offputting process.

Nearly half of customers who attempt to unlock their mobile phone find it difficult, with many facing long delays before receiving a code required to unlock a device.

Others report being given codes that do not work, while some have even suffered a loss of service after realising the device was locked before attempting to switch networks.

Mobile network operator, Three, welcomed the Ofcom plans, noting that the practice of selling locked phones was unfair to consumers.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome Ofcom’s preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three-quarters of consumers find unfair.

“We don’t believe that there should be any barriers to switching mobile provider. That’s why we have supplied all our handsets unlocked at the point of sale since 2014.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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