Ofcom releases mobile phone unlocking guide

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EE charges most at £20.42 while Three leaves all devices unlocked

Ofcom has released a guide explaining handset unlocking to customers, giving details on charges, process and legal advice for each network provider.

Most of the UK’s networks lock handsets, meaning that only sim cards from the operator who provided phone will work with the handset. Some networks charge customers to unlock their handsets and Ofcom’s report sets this out for customers.

Of the major networks, only Three sell all handsets unlocked, a policy they introduced in December. Meanwhile, EE lock all handsets for pre-paid and contract customers, who must pay a £20.42 fee to get an unlocked device. Vodafone also lock all devices.

O2 also lock all pre-paid handsets and some contract phones, according to Ofcom and the policy is the same on Tesco. Virgin Mobile usually lock pre-paid but don’t lock contract handsets.

The information also shows the disparity in costs across the different providers. EE is the most expensive, followed by Tesco who charge £20 if the phone is under 12 months old. It is free after that.

Vodafone charge £19.99 for all pre-paid handsets, the same for contract phones under 12 months and nothing after that. Virgin charge £15.32 while O2 charge £15.

‘You can find out whether your handset is locked by asking your mobile phone provider, or by trying a different network SIM card in it,’ Ofcom reports. ‘If you get a message that indicates there is a problem and you cannot make calls, it’s possible that your phone may be locked.’

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