Mobile firms could be banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets under new proposals being considered by Ofcom.
O2, Sky, Three and Virgin already sell unlocked devices but some networks, including BT/EE and Vodafone, still sell handsets which can only be used on their services unless they are unlocked.
While some phones can be unlocked for free during or at the end of the minimum contract periods, others are only unlocked in return for a fee.
The regulator says its research has found that more than a third of potential switchers said this put them off while almost half of those who try to unlock their device find it difficult.
Problems uncovered by Ofcom’s research include long delays before getting the code they need to unlock their device and being given a code that doesn’t work. Both can result in switchers suffering a loss of service if the process isn’t completed before they switched.
By banning the sale of locked handsets Ofcom hopes to make it easier for customers to change network and take advantage of the UK’s highly competitive mobile market.
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, 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.”