Communications regulator Ofcom has proposed a new set of plans which would prevent phone companies from selling ‘locked’ handsets.
BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks without being unlocked first, which can cost £10.
The plan is part of a number of new rules Ofcom is seeking to implement in order to make switching easier for consumers.
The move follows a major change in July this year that meant that customers can now switch operator simply by sending a charge-free message.
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating.
“By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”
Mobile provider Three UK welcomed the move, but suggested Ofcom should look to shorten its 12-month implementation period. A spokesperson said:
“We don’t believe that there should be any barriers to switching mobile provider. That’s why we have supplied all our handsets unlocked at the point of sale since 2014. We welcome Ofcom’s preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three quarters of consumers find unfair.
“However, there is no technical reason for a 12-month implementation period and urge them to bring their timetable forward, so that consumers can benefit from simpler switching in 2020.”
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at price comparison website uSwitch.com, said: “This latest round of Ofcom proposals on selling unlocked handsets is great news for consumers.
“Smartphones can cost in excess of £1,000, so expecting people to fork out that sum of cash for a restricted device feels incredibly outdated.
A BT spokesperson said: “We lock new smartphones to protect our customers and make it harder for criminals to commit fraud.
“We don’t charge our customers to unlock their phones at the end of contracts and automatically unlock wherever possible.
“We’re already working to make it easier for customers to unlock their devices and switch providers, and we’re working closely with Ofcom through this consultation to improve the experience for our customers while protecting against fraud.”
A Vodafone spokesperson said: “We have not charged consumers to unlock their phones for the last couple of years. We support any measure which will benefit customers, but need to ensure the continual protection of a customer’s device if it falls into the wrong hands.
“We are working through the details of Ofcom’s new proposals.”
City A.M. contacted Ofcom for comment.
Neudegg added that he also welcomed plans to make switching broadband providers easier.
According to research conducted by the regulator, 43 per cent of people currently decide against switching because they are worried about arranging two different services to start and end at the right time.
Ofcom said it would publish detailed plans on a new switching process in 2020.