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UK regulator Ofcom to ban carriers from selling locked handsets to make dumping clingy networks even easier

First you could break up by text – next year you can take the phone with you

UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom is introducing new rules that will stop phone companies selling carrier-locked handsets.

The new rules, which will come into force in December 2021, are part of an effort by Ofcom to allow punters to easily switch between networks. This follows regulations introduced in 2019 by Ofcom which allowed users to port their phone numbers by requesting a PAC code by SMS.

Announcing the rule changes, Ofcom acknowledged many carriers already sell devices without the kind of pernicious SIM locking that plagued consumers in the 2000s and prior, back in the dark ages where most people obtained new devices by signing up to a lengthy 24-month contract. However, some networks continue such practices, and Ofcom mentioned Vodafone, EE, and Tesco Mobile by name.

Ofcom argued SIM locks restrict competition by deterring individuals from switching carriers. Unlocking a phone comes with a financial cost, which is often as much as £10. EE, for example, charges £8.99 to unlock a device that's in contract, and requires the contract to be at least six months old.

The watchdog also noted that half of customers struggle to unlock their devices – suffering service disruption, or having to wait for prolonged periods before receiving the necessary unlock code.

The Register has contacted Vodafone, EE, and Tesco Mobile for comment.

These rules coincide with the introduction of other consumer-friendly regulation targeting the telecommunications industry. New measures announced today will force networks to provide prospective customers with a summary of their contract before they sign up. This will list prices, minimum speeds, and the duration of the contract.

Ofcom also announced plans to make it easier for customers to switch between networks that use different underlying infrastructure, such as from Virgin Media to Community Fibre. ®

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