What you need to know
- UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is proposing a ban on the sale of locked mobile phones.
- It says that the process of paying to unlock a device creates additional hassle that could put people off switching all together.
- Three major UK carriers sell devices locked to their networks, including Vodafone and BT/EE.
This article has been updated to include statements from Vodafone, BT, and EE on Ofcom's proposal.
UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is proposing to ban the sale of mobile devices locked to a specific network, according to a consultation document published today, December 17.
As reported by MacRumors, the document is titled **'Fair treatment and easier switching for broadband and mobile customers - Proposals to implement the new European Electronic Communications Code.' **
The overview states that the priority of Ofcom is fairness for customers. It then outlines a significant plan to help people shop with confidence, "make informed choices", switch easily and get fair deals. Measures proposed cover broadband, mobile, pay-TV and landline phone sales. However, the most notable proposal is a ban on the sale of locked devices by carriers. The outline states:
In the UK, BT/EE, Tesco Mobile, and Vodafone all sell devices locked to their respective networks. They cannot be used on any other network unless unlocked by the carrier, often at a cost. According to the report "just under half" of people unlocking their devices experience some sort of difficulty, including a long delay in receiving their code required for unlocking, receiving a code that does not work, or the loss of service caused by switching networks with a device they did not realize was locked.
Ofcom states that these difficulties can deter customers from switching and finding a better mobile deal. In fact, their evidence claims that one-third of customers who had considered switching decided not to in part because of device locking.
The new proposal would ban the sale of locked devices to residential customers within 12 months of any decision being made.
In a statement concerning the new proposal, Vodafone said:
When asked for comment, BT also highlighted that it does not charge customers to unlock their iPhones, and that iPhones and Pixels automatically unlock at the end of contracts. It stressed that locking phones made it harder for criminals to commit fraud, providing an extra layer of protection for customers. A spokesperson from EE further stated:
Alongside the ban on locked devices, Ofcom is also proposing that mobile customers are given more detailed information about contracts they are offered before signing, along with a short written summary of the key terms to help them compare and choose. It is also proposing a strengthening of customers' right to exit their contract where changes mid-contract occur that they may not have been told about.
It also plans to propose guidance protecting customers who buy bundle services with different minimum commitment period. By way of example, Vodafone sells home broadband bundled with mobile phone contracts, the minimum commitments to which are 2 years and 18 months respectively.
The news comes as a big shakeup to the UK carrier practice of selling locked phones. Whilst several carriers have already moved away from locked devices, BT/EE, Vodafone, and Tesco Mobile together hold a 55% market share of UK carrier business (2018), meaning the move could affect many millions of customers for the better. Currently, O2 and Three are the only major carriers who sell unlocked devices.
Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.
Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.
Good, make it happen. Sometimes unlocking phones can be a nightmare, sometimes requiring the original person who purchased the phone, or having to deal with random nonsense on the phone to customer services. Next on the list is making all telephone masts accessible from any network, so you don't have to pick a provider based on location
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