29 Jan 2021

Unlocking the Mobile Marketplace

In December, Ofcom issued a new set of rules preventing mobile phone companies from selling handsets that are locked to their networks. The issue was first raised by Ofcom a year earlier, where they warned of the intervention mobile operators could face as part of their efforts to make it easier for people to switch network providers.

Although O2, Sky, Three and Virgin have all shifted away from this practice already, there are still some major players (like BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone) who continue to sell mobile phones that can’t be used on other networks unless they are unlocked first. The idea is undoubtedly to make it harder for users to leave by putting in a complex process to ‘unlock’ the device, with some even charging users as much as £10 to do so.

Ofcom research has revealed that more than a third of people who decided against switching, said this process had put them off, and almost half of those surveyed had experienced difficulties when trying to unlock their phones. Examples given were long delays in getting codes sent to them, codes not working and loss of service for switching customers who hadn’t realised their handsets were locked.

“Following consultation, we have confirmed that mobile companies will be banned from selling locked phones – allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free,” said Ofcom. “The new rules will come in from December 2021.”

Another measure that Ofcom is implementing is that operators will have to provide them with a summary of the main terms of their contract in writing – including contract length and prices – before they sign up. Broadband providers will also have to inform customers of the minimum internet speeds they can expect.