Mobile phone companies are to be banned from selling devices which are “locked” into specific networks.

That's thanks to a new ruling from communications regulator Ofcom, who said the likes of BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone will only be allowed to supply phones which allow customers to switch networks with ease.

Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s connectivity director, said: “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked.

“So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.”

Currently, companies such as BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones which cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked.

Customers can currently unlock their phones, however it costs money to do so.

But from December 2021, customers will benefit from increased flexibility with their mobile plans.

And Ofcom said it expects widespread compliance with the new rules, since companies breaking them risk heavy fines.

Mobile phone stockMobile phone companies will no longer be allowed to sell ‘locked’ handsets from December 2021

A Vodafone UK spokesman said: “We stand ready to implement these changes, when they come into force.”

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at comparison site, said the announcement “will finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice”.

He said: “Despite some modest improvements to the process, unlocking, when required, is often a pain.

“When the new rules come into force, customers will be able to buy the phone and package they want, with whatever network, safe in the knowledge that if they later choose to switch to another network, they can do so easily and base the decision purely on what’s right for them.”

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Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at said: “Today’s announcement on mobile handset locking will finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice."

“Ofcom’s new package of rules will also bring greater transparency to contracts and improve switching processes between different networks, although consumers will have to wait until late 2022 for some of these changes to be introduced.  

“Reform of the switching system will be vital, with new full fibre networks being rolled out across the country. And as the industry has so far failed to agree to a new process, all eyes will be on the regulator to see how this will work in practice.”