/ Technology

We want to unlock better mobile phone deals

Unlock Better Mobile Deals logo

Today we launch our campaign to Unlock Better Mobile Deals. You shouldn’t be trapped in contracts that aren’t right for you, or be stuck with locked phones when your contract ends. And we need your help.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when my current mobile phone contract runs out, but I got a new handset about two years ago and I’ve recently been thinking about how I can save money on my next deal. A few months back, I was told I could upgrade to a new 24 month contract, but I wasn’t convinced it was what I really needed.

It turns out I’m not alone. Only four in 10 people with a mobile contract trust their provider to put them on the best deal for their usage at the end of their contract. A similar percentage think there’s probably a better value tariff for their usage than the one they’re currently on.

So what are my options?

Getting the latest handset will often mean signing up for a long-term contract, but my phone’s only two years old, and there are some pretty good pay-as-you-go or sim-only options from different providers. But to get these deals, I’ll need to get my phone unlocked. Even though I own my handset, it’s probably going to cost me.

Some providers will unlock your phone for free (giffgaff and Three), but others can charge as much as £20. As Roel told us here on Which? Convo:

‘EE/Orange have just asked me to pay £20.54 to unlock my phone. This is effectively a charge to prevent me from switching supplier.’

Another commenter, KC, asked about getting a phone unlocked so they could use a foreign Sim card while abroad. Their provider told them there was a £20 charge and it would take 20 days.

Two thirds think it’s unfair that phones are locked to a provider’s network, and eight in 10 think providers should unlock phones automatically and for free when contracts end.

These are all reasons why we’ve launched our campaign to Unlock Better Mobile Deals.

Help us get mobile phone companies to do more

We want mobile phone companies to unlock handsets for free: selling pay as you go handsets unlocked, and automatically unlocking contract phones for free at the end of the contract.

We also want them to unlock the best possible deals, by alerting people that their contracts are about to end and giving them details of all the available deals to best match their needs.

Sign our petition if you want mobile companies to do more, and then tell us below about your experience with your provider. Have you ever had to pay to unlock your phone?

Nicholas McCarthy says:
29 May 2014

do you have a location list of where each call is made and how many people in the uk are on the wrong mobile network according to their demographic profile, i would ask to why voice clarity and speaking into your mobile which then translates into words automatically for loading into your laptop or pc isn’t marketed to the consumer’s how many how can you shape a varience list for a mobile network i think the social stratification of the mobile industry still needs work on ie people’s varience’s are out not enough network provider’s for the number of people ? And do people want all their communication through one provider or a number of different provider’s Tesco mobile doesn’t provide you with TV services in yet it has the most amount of customer’s in its market.


Got one unlocked at a local market for £10 a few years ago. Only took them a few minutes but much quicker and cheaper than the mobile phone companies.

I assume when the 2-year contract is up, you have bought and paid for your phone and it should now be your property. Sounds like it should be illegal for a phone company to retain any rights over it by keeping it locked into their network.


Why is Which making a fuss about this? The European Commission is already going to force networks to SIM-unlock phones for free after six months in the same legislation that will abolish intra-EEA roaming charges. See Article 28(2) at http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=2734 which is the draft legislation of what has recently been ratified.


Hi NFH, This is all still being discussed at EU level, and there is a danger that it will not get passed into legislation as it is currently drafted. Even if it does, then there would be an implementation period – we think the changes to make phone unlocking free is something that should happen swiftly and it is something we can push for in the UK now


I understood that a decision had already been made to implement the entirety of the above draft directive, although I can’t find any published final directive. If I’m wrong, then of course I support Which’s campaign.


Locking phones is all part of the Networks marketing and pricing strategy and in general unlocked phones cost more.

I’m all in favour of unlocked phones and short or monthly contracts to show the real cost of the phones but not sure if most consumers would like this !


I would like to see unbundling of the goods and the service to promote competition and transparency. We need an end to the cost of mobile phones being subsidised by monthly charges because this:
– Encourages consumers to acquire handsets they cannot truly afford through an unhealthy “buy now pay later” consumer debt culture with a disguised loan from the mobile network.
– Distorts competition by disguising the true price of the handset and of the service, as opposed to a SIM-free handset and SIM-only service.
– Encourages wasteful acquisition of new handsets because consumers mistakenly believe they are receiving the handset for free or for very little.
– Necessitates long contract durations in order to spread the cost of the handset, which inhibits competition by preventing consumers from switching networks.
– Causes consumers to continue paying the inflated monthly charge even after they have paid off the subsidy of the handset, unless they remember to take action at the end of the minimum contract period.

Subsidised handsets are usually SIM-locked which:
– Inhibits competition by making it more difficult to switch networks.
– Prevents consumers from using local SIM cards abroad, allowing UK networks to impose unreasonably high roaming charges by excluding foreign competition.

For these reasons, Ofcom should encourage unsubsidised SIM-free handsets and competitive SIM-only contracts to become the norm, as is common in many other countries. At the very least, networks should be forced to unbundle the monthly handset subsidy repayment and the monthly charge for service (as O2 has started doing), itemising the two separately with independent contract durations and an APR for the loan (as Giffgaff is doing). The monthly handset subsidy repayment should not be allowed to continue after the cost of the handset has been paid off.


Quite agree
There is obviously a lot of cross-subsidising going on with the bundles, it is hard/impossible to buy a SIMfree phone and a SIM only deal from the major networks for less than a bundle.

Nicholas McCarthy says:
2 June 2014