All mobile operators in the US will now have to unlock mobile phones or tablets at the end of your contract. Great news for US consumers – shame about us Brits!
US mobile providers will need to automatically let you know when you are eligible to unlock and they have two days to complete the process once you’ve notified them.
In late 2013 US mobile providers agreed to the voluntary Consumer Code for Wireless Service, which included rules around handset unlocking for customers on contracts, as well as Pay as You Go. This means once you’ve paid for it, you can use your phone on any network.
Unlocking phones in the UK
However, it’s a different story here in the UK. The majority of providers still sell all of their handsets locked to their network, with just Three, GiffGaff and Utility Warehouse selling them automatically unlocked. When you can unlock them and how much it costs can vary hugely. Just a quick look at this table by Ofcom shows how complicated it is, with some charging as much as £20.
Even when companies allow you to unlock your phone, some customers find themselves waiting far longer than promised. David told us:
‘I have spent a long time trying to get Vodafone to unlock a phone at end of contract, it actually took three attempts and five months.’
In the UK, we want providers to follow the US’s lead and make switching easier by unlocking handsets automatically for free. We also think they should also tell you when your contract’s about to end, give details of the best deals for you and separate the cost of the handset out from the rest of the tariff so it’s clear how much you are paying.
So if mobile phone networks can do it in the US, why not in the UK? It’s time for the UK networks to turn their backs on locked phones.