UK regulator will ban mobile carriers from selling locked smartphones next year


While US residents will probably be dealing with those headaches for years to come, those in the UK will soon be getting some relief, courtesy of communications regulator Ofcom.

The organization released a statement today laying out some upcoming measures it will be taking to “protect broadband, mobile, pay TV, and landline” customers and ensure they get a “fair deal.” As part of this package of rules, Ofcom will prohibit carriers from selling locked devices — not just smartphones, notably — to residential customers, effective December 2021. The full, relevant portion of Ofcom’s announcement is as follows:

In the December Consultation, we set out our concerns about device locking. Specifically, we were concerned that the practice of device locking could act as a disincentive to switch and undermine the effectiveness of measures that we have already put in place to make switching easier for customers. In light of this, we proposed two potential options to address the concerns that we identified, including our preferred option of a ban on the sale of locked handsets to residential customers.10.3

Following our review of responses to the December Consultation, we have concluded that, with effect from December 2021, providers will be prohibited from selling locked devices to residential customers.

Ofcom says it was “concerned” that the practice of device locking could act as a “disincentive” for a consumer to switch providers, effectively discouraging competition. If nothing else, it’s certainly an inconvenience — unlocking your device (through official means) often incurs a fee, and for several UK mobile providers, it can only be done after a certain amount of time has passed.

Overall, it’s not difficult to see why Ofcom feels this practice is unfair and anti-consumer, and we’re glad to see the organization take steps to resolve the situation. Now, we just need to wait for similar rules to roll out in the US.