Mobile phone providers will have to offer 12-month contracts under EU rules set to be enforced by the telecommunications regulator.

Ofcom will ensure UK operators offer year-long tie-ins by the end of May (see the Cheap Mobiles guide).

It is hoped the new ruling will make it easier for consumers to keep up-to-date with the latest mobile gadgets and be able to search for cheaper deals more frequently.

The rising popularity of smartphones has resulted in lengthier contracts that tie users in for up to two years.

Consumers are generally only offered 18-month or 24-month contracts at present when buying the latest high-tech handsets.

Tesco Mobile is the only provider to sell the iPhone4 on a 12-month contract (see the Cheap iPhones guide).

While shorter terms will give users greater flexibility, it is likely they will be more expensive per month.

An Ofcom spokeswoman says: "The European Telecoms Package has to be transposed into UK law by the end of May.

"Under it, contract lengths must not exceed 24 months and consumers should have the option to subscribe to a 12 month contract."

A consultation is due to begin in spring to decide the finer detail and when exactly the requirement will start.

Further reading/Key links

Slash mobile costs: Mobile Phone Contracts, Cheap iPhones, Mobile Roaming, Free Texts,