UK to ban carriers from selling network-locked phones next year

There was a time when it seemed that carrier-subsidized phones as going out of fashion. That hasn't changed at all in the US where carriers still hold sway over people's mobile purchases but the landscape has shifted slightly in Europe. People there still get their phones from their carrier of choice but regional regulations have taken steps against lock-ins that US consumers have pretty much accepted as a fact of life. The UK is following suit and will soon force its remaining carriers to sell only unlocked phones by December 2021.

At the heart of this new regulation being pushed by UK's Ofcom watchdog isn't really about carrier monopoly or unfair business practices. Instead, it revolves around the process of unlocking these carrier-locked phones that consumers are legally entitled to at the end of the phone's contract. The regulatory body says, however, that few people are able to do so, at least not without great and unnecessary inconvenience.

As is the practice almost everywhere, consumers can get their phones unlocked at the end of their contract so that it could work on any other carrier's network. The process involves a 10 GBP ($13) fee and waiting for an unlock code. Those codes often take a long time to be received and they don't always work so people have to either repeat the process over and over again or contact customer support.

Some don't even know that their phones are unaware that their phones are locked to a carrier and suddenly find themselves without service when they switch SIM cards. Ofcom says that taking carrier-locked phones out of the equation completely will help consumers easily switch between their network of choice, which may be both a good and a bad thing for carriers.

Network operators have, of course, argued that locking phones help deter theft and fraud. That argument, however, falls a bit flat considering the likes of O2, Sky, Three, and Virgin already sell unlocked devices only. Those expected to be affected by this new rule include BT, EE, Vodafone, and Tesco Mobile.