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Ofcom plans ban on mobile firms selling 'locked' phones

Mobile phone companies would be banned from selling 'locked' handsets under new plans from the communications regulator, which also aim to make switching broadband network easier.

According to Ofcom, several firms including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are 'unlocked' – a technical procedure which can cost about £10. Unlocking a handset allows a customer to switch away and instead use another network's Sim.

However, there are ways of unlocking your phone for free – see mobile unlocking for more.

Ofcom research has found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this unlocking process had put them off, and nearly half of customers who try to unlock their device found it difficult.

Issues include experiencing a long delay before getting the code needed to unlock their device, or being given a code that doesn't work.

These plans follow reforms introduced in July that mean mobile customers can now switch supplier by sending a free text.

Ofcom will run a consultation on its proposed changes until March, before setting out its next steps.

See our 30 Cheap Mobile Tips guide for more on cutting the cost of your mobile phone.

Ofcom also outlines plans to make broadband switching easier

Ofcom also says it's planning to make it easier to switch between broadband networks, though detail on this is limited.

Currently, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach's copper-cable network can already follow a simple process, where their new provider manages the switch.

But this isn't available to customers moving to a different broadband network – such as CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media. These customers need to contact their existing and new provider to co-ordinate the switch and make sure there is no gap between old and new service.

Ofcom says switching will become easier for all broadband customers, whether switching between different networks or not, and that it will outline further details on this next year.

What does Ofcom say?

Ofcom's consumer group director Lindsey Fussell said: "Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating.

"By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal."

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