/ Technology

Mobile unlocking – is your network holding you hostage?

A mobile phone being unlocked with a key

You’ve come to the end of your contract and want to move to a new deal on a different network. All you need to do is give your provider a call to request your PAC code and you’re ready to go, or is it not so simple?

When you complete your mobile phone contract and want to change provider, you have to ask for your porting authorisation code (otherwise known as a PAC code) to take your existing phone number with you.

If you want to use the same handset, you may have to make an explicit request and pay for an unlocking code, as many handsets are locked to the original network.

The unlocking process

The cost of unlocking your phone can be between £15 and £20, but on some networks where you’ve had your handset for a while it may be free. Some Which? members have been in touch to complain about these unexpected charges and feel they are a deliberate barrier put in place by the networks to put people off leaving.

The information provided online by the providers on handset unlocking is patchy at best. From the comments we have received it seems that although providers will speedily provide you with a PAC code, they are unlikely to offer the unlocking service unless you specifically ask for it. This not only seems a little unhelpful, but also makes the switching process take longer.

We have also received complaints about how long it takes to get a handset unlocked once you have managed to make the request. One customer reports waiting almost three months for an unlock code from Orange, and others have been left tied to their old provider for up to two months following their initial request. Is this essentially a hostage situation?

What does Ofcom have to say?

Ofcom takes a firm stance on the provision of PAC codes, stating that they should be provided immediately over the phone or within a maximum of two hours by text. However, when it comes to mobile unlocking there are currently no specifications surrounding the process or the fees providers can charge – although Ofcom has said this is an issue it’s currently considering.

Are you happy to trade off having access to any network on your phone if it means that you can walk out of the store with a flashy handset? Perhaps you would rather pay more to have more flexibility?

What have been your experiences when moving between providers and what do you think needs to change when it comes to mobile unlocking?

Sunil Karir says:
29 July 2016

I had a Virgin SIM only deal, was using a SG5. Purchased an IPhone6, 64GB. Informed Virgin of this & they sent me a new SIM. Informed Virgin that I wanted to leave network & to provide me with a PUK code. Also informed them that I wanted to continue to use handset & keep number. This was on 29th June 2016. I changed SIM over on 20th July 2016, & was told all should be working by 21st July 2016. At time of writing, not working, so been without a phone for nearly 9 days. Been told today, could take up to another 5 working days! I have heard all the excuses that it should be Apple/Carphone Warehouse to unlock. Was told that there was a charge then told Virgin could not do it. Also told a request was made to unlock but lost in system, so new request made today. Apple say no delay at their end, as it takes them maximum 2 days to unlock, once they get Virgin to submit request. The time delay is unacceptbale. I have made a formal complaint & will be seeking due compensation.

christopher a says:
14 September 2016

i moved from EE to giffgaff ,, When I called to get get my PAC CODE from EE the operators tried all ways to delay, or persuade me from having questioning why I wanted my pac code ,,,
I eventually got it ,,I transferred to New Network ,,, keeping my Old number ,, Phone works on new network but i can not receive calls ,,,but I can make calls

my new Network provider says : ” EE ,your previous provider has not released all the required files for your number port to go through”

I wonder if this was done intentionally by EE?


If you want the official line Christopher then –Ofcom- quote= mobile phone users have the right to take their mobile number with them when they switch to a new provider -aka- mobile number portability. What EE is doing is technically illegal , they can hit a few keys and -hey presto ! it works , gone are the days of strowger relays and de-soldering and re-soldering. According to Ofcom- reasons for refusal= your number does not belong to you — the account for that number has been terminated-the account holder has died – a PAC has already been issued and is still valid -the customer has not adequately proved that they are the account holder . I take it all those dont apply to you –including your death ! . Have you tried ringing your own number on your OWN cell-net phone ? it should come up engaged or NU . You can bet its intentional.


Bought a 2nd hand iPad from a legitimate retailer. The iPad was locked to EE. The iPad had been given as a deal sweetener, a free gift without a contract sim in it, as part of a contract phone deal. The customer had every right to sell it, it wasn’t under contract it was a free gift he no longer wanted. EE’s excuse for refusing to unlock it wasn’t that it was “a tablet bought under contract” but that “it was linked to a customer who’d taken out a phone contract. The tablets IMEI had to be linked to someone’s name to show it wasn’t stolen from EE. No reason what so ever not to unlock it, but as I’ve heard time and time again from people locally, EE will say anything not to unlock an item.


Have you tried all the online unlocker companies G ? Which model of iPad is it ?

Martin says:
9 April 2017

I wanted to upgrade a Samsung phone to an IPhone 6s 32g and found the best offer on car phone warehouse. The upgrade offer by Vodafone was much more expensive.
I went ahead with car phone warehouse and contacted Vodafone to get a PAC code to transfer my old number to the new phone. Both old and new phone are on the Vodafone network. When finally getting to take to the retention team the agent offered me what he said was a much better deal. I declined pointing out that it was too late and I had the new phone in my hands. I just wanted the PAC code. The agent continued to push his offer and said that I could send the new phone back and take out the Vodafone offer. I worked out the difference in my head and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and asked again for the PAC code. The agent then told me that the signal to my new phone would not be as good with car phone warehouse. I pointed out that the new phone is on the Vodafone network but the agent insisted that my new phone would not work very well.
I knew that this was not true and challenged the agent. The agent then pretended he could not hear me and the line went dead.
I phone Vodafone again and complained about the previous agent.

After all of this the new agent tells me I have to wait for 30 days to get my PAC code. You and I know that it takes just minutes to swap number with a PAC code. If I had an upgrade with Vodafone it would have been done immediately. Apparently I have to wait for my old phone to be switched to pay as you go and only then can I get the PAC code.
Why not switch the numbers and have the new number as the PAYG on my old phone. They still get their months notice but I would have my old number on my new phone.


Martin have a read of : http://www.paccodes.co.uk/networks/vo there are boxes to input company (ISP) and new network and-get your Vodaphone etc -PAC code.

Norman T says:
15 May 2017

I have just used the really useful link from Duncan Lucas: http://www.paccodes.co.uk/networks/vo and phoned Vodafone. After listening to their latest offers to try to retain me I had the PAC code within seconds & the new provider will do the rest. There is no need to contact Vodafone again to cancel the existing contract.