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Mobile networks in the UK banned from selling locked phones

Telecoms regulator Ofcom is trying to make it easier for people to switch phone carriers.

Woman using a phone in London
UK phone owners will be able to switch networks more easily under new rules.

Mobile networks in the UK have been banned from selling locked phones that can only be used with one carrier. British telecoms regulator Ofcom announced the new rule on Tuesday, although it isn't due to come into force until December 2021.

Several phone networks in the UK, including EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile, sell phones as part of contracts that cannot be used with a SIM card from another provider, meaning that owners can't switch to a rival network when their contract up is up if they want to continue using the same device. Some UK networks, including O2, Three, Virgin and Sky already sell unlocked handsets.

Phones can be unlocked from networks, usually for a small cost, but according to Ofcom research, this process often dissuades people from switching to another carrier. The watchdog said that almost half of people who do switch networks experience trouble doing so. Difficulties include long delays receiving codes, or loss of service if people switch networks without realizing their phone was locked.

"We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked," said Ofcom Connectivity Director Selina Chadha in a statement. "So we're banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals."

Ofcom's decision on locked handsets comes as part of a wider commitment by the UK to comply with the European Electronic Communications Code, in spite of its decision to leave the EU.

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