UK mobile operators must now sell unlocked phones as standard

UK mobile operators are now banned from selling unlocked handsets to their customers, making it easier for consumers to switch provider in search of a better mobile phone deal.

Traditionally, phones supplied as part of a contract have been tied to a particular network with operators obliged to unlock such devices at the end of a customer’s minimum term.

However, this can be an inconvenient process. If an unlock code is delayed or doesn't work, then there is a potential loss of service, while some people might be completely unaware their device is locked at all.

Ofcom locked phones

This situation means many people choose to either negotiate a new contract with the same operator when they might be better served elsewhere. Others stay on the same tariff, overpaying because they have already paid off the handset element.  

Some operators, including O2, Sky Mobile, Three and Virgin Mobile, had already changed their practices to offer unlocked handsets as standard. However, Ofcom has decided more formal intervention is required.

It said last year that the additional costs and actions required to unlock a device are unacceptable and incompatible with its desire to drive competition in the UK mobile market and make it as easy as possible to change providers. Now the rules have formally come into effect.

Other measures taken by the regulator include the ability to switch operators by sending a single text message. Operators must respond to a cancellation text within one minute with a PAC code that allows customers to retain their existing phone number with another network – removing one of the most significant barriers to switching.

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