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

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 …

  1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

    If only...

    Now if the FCC just had the balls to do that in the US...

    1. HildyJ Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: If only...

      Amen.

      However late this is from a British point of view, there's currently not even a glimmer of hope over here across the pond.

    2. HellDeskJockey

      Careful what you wish for

      I don't buy locked handsets. Amazon has plenty of unlocked handsets and they work for me. Pay for it and be done with it.

      But an outright ban on locking handsets would have problems too. Many people prefer to buy the shiny flagship phones and then pay for them over several years. Locking the handsets helps with that. Otherwise you buy a handset from company A then switch to company B. Afterwards you "forget" your handset bill with company A. Yes it's wrong and will have bad effects on your credit. But if your credit is already trashed it's not much of a threat.

      You have to watch out for that law of unintended consequences.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Careful what you wish for

        It's more than just a bad credit history you have to worry about, as the bailiffs will be sent round to recover what's outstanding - at least, that's what they tried with me when Phone Co. set them on to the wrong (paying) customer (and that's when I just had a monthly airtime contract).

    3. RobHib

      Re: If only...

      Likewise, I wish Australian regulators would do the same.

      Incidentally, this locked-in crap didn't just come in with mobile phones, it was first introduced in the 1920s in AM radio receivers. A radio station would arrange for slightly cheaper fixed-frequency (no tuning knob) radio receivers specifically tuned to its own frequency to be available for sale in department stores, etc. Mind you, they didn't last long, by the '30s fixed-frequency was essentially dead, from then on they all had variable tuning capacitors.

      By the time mobile phones came out, the whole locked-radio fiasco had been forgotten about. By then, the 1920s people had either died or they were too old to remember. Clearly, telcos didn't forget. It's interesting to note that locked mobile phones have now been around much longer than the locked radios ever were. Probably the telcos did considerable research beforehand, and it seems this time they made it watertight.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Tempest
        Unhappy

        Re: If only...

        I often go to the DPRK (North Korea) on business. In the larger cities 'radios' were cable connected 'Rediffusion style' (see http://www.rediffusion.info/) which was uneconomic / impracticable in the countryside. There RF radios were available but with prefixed, button selected, DPRK radio stations.

        More brave independent-minded citizens figured out ways to tune to South Korean stations. If caught, the penalty was years in jail!

  2. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    Wait, what?

    A government department actually doing what it's supposed to and protecting the consumer instead of the industry? Who are you and what have you done with the real government department?

    Ok admittedly, the legislation is 20 years too late to have a real effect, but even so...

    1. NiceCuppaTea

      Re: Wait, what?

      I think they took "slowly slowly catchy monkey" too seriously

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A government department actually doing what it's supposed to

      Yes, great success, it only took them about 20 years!

    3. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what?

      Shameful it took so long.

      Consumers were ‘Knowingly Undersold’ for years by the previous chair.

  3. MrReynolds2U

    Why so slow? Hasn't this been EU legislation since 2018 or earlier?

    My recent experience of this issue was trying to unblock an out-of-contract EE iPhone my daughter was given by a friend.

    Several phone calls and promises and nothing actually done by EE. No recourse, no apologies.

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      in some EU countries this was never the case.

    2. Spanners Silver badge
      Big Brother

      @MrReynolds2U

      Hasn't this been EU legislation since 2018 or earlier?

      Surely not! If this was an EU rule, our "government" would have passed a rule banning unlocked phones with one of the usual false excuses...

      1. Terrorists

      2. To protect children

      3. To cut red tape

      If Ree Smogg or Dom realise that this would bring us into line with anywhere else than the USA, the rule could yet be reversed...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hasn't this been EU legislation since 2018 or earlier?

      I don't think there's any EU legislation. In France the law says that operators must unlock phones free after 6 months, although some operators only apply a 3 month delay.

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Now if only we can make it the law that phone manufactures unlock the bootloaders on their phones when they stop supplying updates, so that alternative ROMs can be installed on them, and that bloatware can be uninstalled without having to root the phone

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Now if only we can make it the law that phone manufactures unlock the bootloaders on their phones

      GREAT idea! I'd say... 10 years to push it through for the legislators to notice the idea (e.g. selling it to the politician so that they can claim they're all for "green!!!", and "sustainable!!!"). Then another 10 - 15 years or so to make it happen.

  5. Barrie Shepherd

    While it's taken ages for OFCOM to get this far I congratulate them on number porting by SMS.

    I recently had to do this on two phones and it was all over in less than 30 mins.

    I also ported my POTS PSTN number away from the copper cable to a VoIP provider which was equally seamless and efficient.

    1. gryphon

      What is the process for POTS to VoIP porting?

      1. Barrie Shepherd

        "What is the process for POTS to VoIP porting?"

        In my case I was porting from Plusnet as I no longer needed their Internet connection having taken up Virgins high speed offering.

        You can't do this unless you have a 'naked' Internet connection as you need a POTS number for ADSL provisioning. I have Virgin so am totally free of OIpenReach copper. Regrettably naked Internet connections on OpenReach copper are not (easily) available in the UK - Australia is way ahead in this respect.

        I already had an account with a VoIP VSP (Tel2.co.uk) which I was using for an out of area PSTN number. I've dealt with Tel2, and their predecessors, for over 8 years.

        To port a POTS number they advised that the receiving Provider has to initiate the transfer to avoid loss of the number if the existing provider or OpenReach do things out of sequence.

        You just tell your selected VSP your current POTS number and provider, send a copy of the invoice as proof, and they do the rest. Also a good idea to warn your existing POTS provider - but DON'T cancel any account with them at that point - you could loose the POTS number.

        The new VSP initiates the port with OpenReach, I think it was a ten day wait period, you then get a time/date for the Port and your VoIP is good to go.

        You need to set up your VoIP device in advance so that at Port time it just starts working.

        In my case I was porting from Plusnet as I no longer needed their Internet connection having taken up Virgins high speed offering.

        I can now manipulate POTS calls in my home Asterisk box without the complexity of a POTS/VoIP gateway device. If you don't need that much complexity a VoIP phone will do. There was a time you could take your VoIP phone to a friends house and 'plug in' there while you visit - but Covid Law has scuppered that!!! :-)

  6. Confuciousmobil

    Price rises on their way then.

    Phone companies sell phones locked to their networks and include the price spread over the 24 month contract, some people prefer it this way. If the phone is unlocked people will get the phone and use it with a cheap SIM and not pay their contract. The cost of recovering this money will have to be covered somehow.

    1. Barrie Shepherd

      Re: Price rises on their way then.

      Virtually every other electronic device in your home can be purchased "spread over a 24 month contract" be it finance company or credit card.

      The phone companies should focus on selling airtime not finance. You get your TV from Curry's on finance and get your programmes from whichever source you want, Bosch et'al don't sell the washer with an electricity provisioning contract.

      If you don't pay the finance contract you are in breach, just like not paying the contract for your TV purchase. So why does buying a phone have to be different ?

    2. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Price rises on their way then.

      It’s unlikely.

      You don’t buy a car on finance, fill it with cheap go-juice from Tesco and don’t pay the debt.

    3. Steve Jackson
      Facepalm

      Re: Price rises on their way then.

      Yeah, the cuffing is to protect the cost of the phone the network gives with the contract. So yeah, expect massive price rises on handsets. Or it'll just switch to you having a HP deal on the phone with the network that the SIM is just another part of the deal. I've always found unlocking to be simple, quick and automatic by some networks once the handset cost is absorbed (usually in the last 6 months of a 24 month contract).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Price rises on their way then.

      Three and O2 don't lock their phones. Their prices don't prices don't seem any higher. But their credit scoring is different to allow for that. It's likely customers with a less than perfect credit history will find it harder to get a contract as the other networks follow suit.

    5. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Price rises on their way then.

      I would assume you recover it from the purchaser. Including all the cost.

  7. codejunky Silver badge

    Why?

    This is a dumb idea. When did people become too stupid to get an unlocked phone if thats what they want? And woe the extortion of £10 to get it unlocked, I see the price hasnt changed in almost 2 decades. There are handsets available for £25 at the local petrol station. Why in the hell reduce choice? If people want a locked in contract for whatever reason its their choice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      I think the problem is that a lot of people don't realise they're buying a locked phone - they go to a store, buy a phone and it's only when they put in the SIM for a new provider a few years down the line that they find out that it's locked.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        @AC

        "I think the problem is that a lot of people don't realise they're buying a locked phone"

        If they are not informed that its a locked phone that would be an issue. But I dont know of any place you can buy a phone where it doesnt say unless you explicitly go into a network providers shop for a phone to which you would expect it to be locked to their network.

        1. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          The idea of consumer protection laws is to protect customers who are not as clever as you claim to be, and protect everyone so they can buy safely.

          And if locking your phone saved the seller money, then this distorts sale prices. They can look cheaper by providing less value.

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Why?

            @gnasher729

            "The idea of consumer protection laws is to protect customers who are not as clever as you claim to be, and protect everyone so they can buy safely."

            We tried the dumbing everything down to the level of the dumbest in class. It doesnt work very well. Instead it inflicts more harm than good.

            "And if locking your phone saved the seller money, then this distorts sale prices."

            It isnt a distortion to provide a service that is different therefore priced accordingly.

            "They can look cheaper by providing less value."

            Or maybe they provide the value the customer wants. We are all different with our own preferences.

  8. Tempest
    Meh

    £10 for unlocking? The instructions have been . . .

    on the InterNet for years. Other sources were 'bent' technicians.

    Apart from my first handset, bought in the UK, none of my handsets have been locked. In fact, many countries with government-owned cell systems have always had COAM (Customer Owned And Maintained) equipment sales outlets.

    Locking almost anything is pointless, although Apple's newer handsets are 'locked down' when it comes to repairs as they are using custom chips.

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