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UK is banning network-locked phones — what you need to know

ee store
(Image credit: EE)

Over the past couple of years the U.K. has been slowly trying to make it easier to swap utility providers, be it broadband, electricity, gas, phones, or something else entirely. Now another step is being taken.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, has announced U.K. networks will be banned from selling network-locked handsets from next year. All to make it easier for people to switch providers. 

This rule is set to take effect from December 2021, so there’s going to be a little while to wait before you can freely swap networks without worrying about where you got the phone from. Of course the rule isn’t going to affect as many people as you might think, since a lot of networks already sell unlocked handsets.

EE/BT, Tesco Mobile, and Vodafone are the only major networks that still do. It’s possible to have those phones unlocked, but Ofcom found a large number of customers are put off by this fact. Particularly when you have to pay money and wait for the unlock process to take place. That’s assuming it works, which it often doesn’t according to Ofcom.

How much it costs depends on what kind of phone you have, which network it’s locked to, and how old it is. It costs up to £10 and can take up to ten days. The lack of simplicity in the terms of what can and can’t be done definitely isn’t making it easier for people to take the plunge and leave for another network.

These rules mean the U.K. will remain compliant with similar EU rules, though the BBC reported that Ofcom was already investigating the issue before those regulations were introduced in 2018. The regulator has also confirmed it will be introducing new rules that make it easier to switch broadband providers from December 2022.

Now, or at least from December next year, that won’t be an issue, because swapping networks will be as simple as swapping the SIM card. 

Tom Pritchard

Tom covers a little bit of everything at Tom’s Guide, ranging from the latest electric cars all the way down to hot takes on why Christopher Nolan is wrong about everything. Appliances are also muscling their way into his routine, which is a pretty long way from his days as Editor at Gizmodo UK. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.