Ofcom bans 36-month contracts and makes number porting easier

New Ofcom regulations ban mobile-phone contracts longer than 24 months, and force operators to transfer customers' numbers to a new provider within a day.

Andy Merrett
Andy Merrett has been using mobile phones since the days when they only made voice calls. Since then he has worked his way through a huge number of Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson models. Andy is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
Andy Merrett
2 min read

Ofcom has introduced three regulations designed to benefit UK mobile-phone users. The telecoms regulator has banned contracts longer than 24 months, and forced operators to transfer customer's mobile numbers to a new provider within one day. It's also introduced an emergency SMS scheme that will let registered users text, rather than call, 999.

Check out our guide to find out how the new legislation affects you.

Contract length

Mobile-phone and broadband providers will no longer be able to offer contracts longer than 24 months. We've already suggested that this will have a limited effect in the UK because only one such mobile-phone contract existed. More significantly, perhaps, consumers must also be offered a choice of 12-month contracts.

Although 12-month contracts tend to be a poor financial choice for many, compared to 18- and particularly 24-month deals, there are plenty of people who'd want them. Indeed, some providers already offer pseudo 12-month deals that allow a handset to be upgraded after a year, although the longer contract remains in place.

Twelve-month deals may be good for those who don't want a fancy smart phone and are prepared to shop around for the best tariff each year.

Number porting

Keeping your number when switching mobile provider is supposed to be easy, but it can be a real pain to carry out. You're lumbered with a temporary number and it can take a long time for the switch to happen. Not any more. From now on, networks must port a customer number to a new provider within one business day.

Failure to do this will require the provider to pay 'reasonable compensation' to the customer. Individual companies can set up their own compensation schemes, with Ofcom reviewing them in 12 months' time.

This ruling has actually been in effect for over a month for individual numbers, but it now extends to businesses that want to switch over a set of numbers in one go.

Emergency SMS

Ofcom's emergency SMS scheme will let registered users -- mainly people with hearing or speech impairments -- to text, instead of ring, 999. The scheme has been running on a voluntary basis since 2009 and there are some 14,500 registered users in the UK.

These aren't the most earth-moving changes but they should ease certain headaches associated with using a mobile phone. Let us know what you think in the comments section below or on our Facebook wall.