It is the end of network locked phones in another part of the world. Mobile service providers and mobile phone companies will be banned from selling smartphones that are ‘locked’ to any particular network. The UK communications regulator Ofcom has said that the new rules come in from December 2021. At this time in the UK, some operators also offer consumers with the option of buying unlocked smartphones while others don’t. Ofcom believes that unlocked phones are one critical element in making it easier for consumers to switch to another network, if they so wish to. Mobile service providers in the UK have confirmed that they will adhere to the new Ofcom guidelines.
The regulator notes that almost half of those who try to unlock their network-locked phones face troubles in doing so, including issues such as inactive codes or loss of service. It also costs around £10 (around Rs 962) to unlock a network locked phone. “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,” says Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s Connectivity Director, in an official statement.
Mobile service providers in the UK have already confirmed that they will adhere to the new rules. The BBC reports that Vodafone and EE, a subsidiary of BT, have said they are prepared for the enforcement of the new guidelines. At this time, in the UK, operators including BT and EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile sell network locked smartphones to consumers. The new Ofcom guidelines will impact O2, Sky, Three and Virgin much lesser because they already sell network unlocked smartphones with their bill plans.
Network locked phones were quite a norm in many countries, including the US, particularly because that was seen as an advantage to consumers because of the price subsidies on offer when users bought new phones. And also because mobile operators had a specific duration contract in place with the consumer, allowing that time to earn back the partial cost of the phone that was bundled with the bill plan. But there has been a change in the way the mobile service provider –> smartphone manufacturer -> consumer link now works, more so because consumers want flexibility to switch plans or operators in case they find better service or better prices on another network. Even in the US, operators including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Cricket Wireless, T-Mobile and Boost Mobile now sell unlocked phones to consumers. In India, the concept of network locked phones never really caught on, and the likes of Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone, now Vi, never aggressively getting into the smartphone bundling options.