UK mobile phone firms to be banned from selling locked handsets

Mobile phone companies are to be banned from selling devices that are locked into specific networks, the UK communications regulator has ruled.

Ofcom said BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone would be told to follow other big-name rivals in only supplying phones that allow customers to switch from one network to another while keeping their existing handset. The rules will come into effect from December 2021.

Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s connectivity director, said: “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.”

Companies such as BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked. Customers can unlock their phones for a fee.

Ofcom said it expected widespread compliance with the new rules, and companies breaking them risked heavy fines.

A Vodafone UK spokesman said: “We stand ready to implement these changes when they come into force.”

Richard Neudegg, the head of regulation at the comparison site, said the announcement would “finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice … Despite some modest improvements to the process, unlocking, when required, is often a pain.

“When the new rules come into force, customers will be able to buy the phone and package they want, with whatever network, safe in the knowledge that if they later choose to switch to another network, they can do so easily and base the decision purely on what’s right for them.”

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