Ofcom has outlined plans to make switching mobile phone providers easier. It wants to place a complete ban on networks locking handsets and then requiring a complicated or even costly process to unlock them again.
The UK communications regulator claims that "nearly half" of customers find it difficult to get their phones unlocked when wanting to move providers. Often having to wait long delays before getting a code to unlock his or her device.
This can cost up to £10 for the service.
Ofcom claims that networks that still sell locked mobile phones include EE/BT, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile. We have also ourselves experienced difficulties unlocking phones acquired from Carphone Warehouse.
One of the named providers, Vodafone, told us that while it welcomed new proposals, it would require further clarification on security for unlocked phones: "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," a Vodafone spokesperson said to Pocket-lint.
EE also cites security as the reason it currently locks its phones: "We lock new smartphones to protect our customers and make it harder for criminals to commit fraud," explained a company spokesperson. "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."
We should also point out that neither Vodafone nor EE charge customers to unlock their phones.
Other UK networks, Three, O2, Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile, have been named by Ofcom as already selling unrestricted, unlocked smartphones.
"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," said a Three spokesperson. "We welcome Ofcom's preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three quarters of consumers find unfair."
At present, the new ruling is under consultation and it is thought that there will be a year long implementation period before any possible enforcement.
However, this time scale is too long for Three: "There is no technical reason for a 12-month implementation period and urge [Ofcom] to bring their timetable forward, so that consumers can benefit from simpler switching in 2020," the company added.
Ofcom is also proposing new rules for broadband providers to make it easier for customers to switch, plus the possibility for British Sign Language users to make 999 calls over video calling, with interpreters placed in emergency call centres.