Brits spend almost £50 million a year unlocking handsets


Three, giffgaff and O2 (prepay) unlock handsets for free but many customers still pay for the service on the high street

British mobile phone users spend more than £48 million unlocking an estimated 4.8 million handsets every year, according to new research from uSwitch.

However, many users are paying to have handsets unlocked despite Three, giffgaff and O2 prepay customers being offered the service for free. All Three handsets sold after the beginning of 2014 are free.

The average cost to unlock a handset is £10.13 but some providers charge in excess and the length of time varies from 72 hours on O2 to up to 30 calendar days on Virgin. Those unlocking a phone on a high street stall pay an average £13.71, more than a third above the average. (See chart below).

“The networks need to simplify the process, making it consistent, and with a low charge that is the same across all providers. Even better, why not take the lead from Three and giffgaff, by selling unlocked handsets?,” said uSwitch telecoms expert Rob Kerr.

“Switching to a SIM-only deal is an easy way to save money because, from the minute a pay-monthly contract with an inclusive phone has ended, customers are throwing money down the drain by paying for a handset – the cost of which is absorbed into their monthly bills – that they’ve already paid off.”


Provider Contract type When phone can be unlocked Charges Time required to unlock
EE, Orange, T-Mobile Pay as you go Anytime £8.99 Up to 10 days
Pay monthly After 6 months
O2* Pay as you go After 12 months £15 Up to 7 days
Pay monthly Anytime Free
Tesco Mobile Pay as you go Anytime £10 for first 12 months, free thereafter Up to 28 days
Pay monthly Free
Three** Pay as you go Anytime Free Up to 7 days
Pay monthly
Virgin Mobile*** Pay as you go Anytime £15.32 Up to 30 calendar days
Pay monthly
Vodafone Pay as you go After 30 days £19.99 Up to 10 days


Pay monthly Anytime £19.99 for first 12 months, free thereafter
giffgaff Pay as you go Anytime Free N/A
Pay monthly

Source: correct as of 8th June, 2015[4]

There is major confusion about unlocking handsets with eight per cent believing that it is illegal and almost one in five (17 per cent) unaware that you can even do it.

Just 48 per cent of people have unlocked a handset in the past five years with a quarter (23 per cent) of those unlocking saying they wanted to pass the device on to a family member.

Overall, just 45 per cent of users go their network to unlock their handset, with 23 per cent going to a shopping centre/high street store and one in ten (12 per cent) going to a market stall.