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UK regulator announces ban on sale of locked mobile phones

EE Store
EE Store (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Ofcom has barred the UK's mobile networks from selling locked phones.
  • The regulator has said that unlocking phones can be a complicated process and discourages people from switching carriers.
  • Some UK carriers such as O2, Three, Sky, and Virgin already sell only unlocked phones.

Carriers in the UK have been barred from selling locked phones to consumers from December 2021 by communications regulator Ofcom (via BBC). The regulator says unlocking handsets is a rather complicated process and can often discourage people from switching to a different carrier at the end of their contract.

Ofcom's connectivity director, Selina Chadha, said in a statement:

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.

As noted by the regulator, a few carriers in the UK have already stopped selling locked phones. These include O2, Three, Sky, and Virgin. BT, EE, Vodafone, and Tesco Mobile, however, continue to sell locked phones. Both Vodafone and EE have issued statements saying they are ready to comply with the new guidelines when they come into force.

A study by Ofcom found that nearly 50% of people who try getting their phone unlocked have experienced difficulties. People usually have to wait a long time to receive the code that is required to initiate the process, and in certain cases, the code doesn't even work. The regulator has also said that some people aren't even aware that their phones are locked and end up losing service when they switch to a different provider.

Babu Mohan
News Writer
  • Are all cell phones in the UK locked or just the cheaper ones on a plan?
  • Some are and some aren't. You can buy unlocked phones from carphone warehouse, argos, Amazon etc and some networks sell their phones unlocked. The article says which ones do and which ones don't but by 2021 they will all be unlocked wherever you get your phone from.