Ofcom has published a guide on mobile phone locking and unlocking. As useful as it is to check whether your handset will be locked, it just shows how confusing and inconsistent phone locking really is.
Last week, a friend asked me how easy it would be to switch providers on her Pay As You Go mobile phone. She’d seen a good Sim-only deal with a different network and asked me whether everything would work straightaway if she simply bought the Sim card and put it in her phone. Sadly, I couldn’t really answer.
‘Your phone might be locked, so it won’t work on another network,’ I said. ‘But it depends on who your provider is, when you bought the phone, and even what type of handset you’ve got. Oh, and it may, or may not, cost you to get it unlocked.’ She looked a bit confused.
Can I unlock my mobile phone for free?
Happily Ofcom has published a guide featuring all of this information – which providers lock mobiles, what their policies are for unlocking them, and how much it will cost you.
It’s good news if you’re with Three Mobile. Since December 2013, all of its handsets are sold unlocked, and if you bought your phone before then Three will unlock it for free, within seven days. Danny Dixon, Three’s director of customer strategy, told us:
‘We want our customers to have the best mobile experience. Unlocked phones give consumers a choice about how they use their handset. We’d rather focus on making the services we offer attractive and useful rather than limiting what our customers can do with their phones.’
Unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward on some of the other networks. O2 will only let you unlock a PAYG phone after 12 months, at a cost of £15. Vodafone charges £19.99 – and while you can unlock a PAYG handset at any time, you’ll have to wait three months if you’re on contract. Both providers can take up to 10 days to unlock phones, which is quicker than Virgin Mobile, which can take as long as 30 days.
Clear? Not really. Consistent? Definitely not.
Unlocking policies are a minefield
If anything, Ofcom’s research shows just what a minefield unlocking policies are. We want providers to either sell handsets unlocked or unlock them for free at the end of your contract. If you agree, make sure to sign our petition.
In response to our campaign, we’ve heard that EE is now considering changing its locking policies and we hope to hear more from them soon. An EE spokesperson told us:
‘We welcome Which?’s work on unlocking. We are currently evaluating our unlocking policies to ensure they balance safeguarding our customers in relation to theft and fraud while ensuring they can easily use their phone on other networks at the end of their contract if they decide to.’
A change in line with what we’ve been calling for would be great news, and could convince other providers to follow suit. We’ll let you know as soon as we have details.
In the meantime, help us persuade companies to change their stance. If you haven’t already, sign our Unlock Mobiles petition and then tell us – do you think mobile providers should change their unlocking policies?