- Nearly five million Brits fork out over £48 million every year just to be able to use their mobile phones on other networks
- More than six in 10 (62%) of those who unlocked their phone had to pay for it –some providers charge up to £19.99 to unlock a handset despite other networks offering it for free
- Almost one in ten (8%) believe the practice of unlocking mobiles is illegal, more than half (58%) have no idea how much it should cost
- Less than half (45%) turn to their networks to unlock a phone; 23% go to a shopping mall or high street; 12% go to market stalls while just 6% attempt it themselves
- A third (34%) think unlocking a phone can be done instantly, when in reality it can take up to 30 days through a mobile phone network
- Almost nine in ten (87%) mobile users argue the unlocking process should be free, and more than half (56%) say it shouldn’t invalidate the handset warranty.
Unlocking mobile phones is costing Brits over £48 million per year, according to new research from price comparison and switching service uSwitch.com, with some mobile providers charging up to £19.99 for a customer to unlock a phone. Even though it’s possible to get your mobile unlocked for free by some networks, or to do it yourself, more than six in ten (62%) of those who have unlocked their phone had to pay for it.
The research also reveals that many people believe unlocking a phone is an illegal or shady practice. Almost one in ten (8%) think that unlocking their mobile for use on other networks may be illegal.
This might explain why less than half (45%) of UK mobile users go to their networks to unlock their mobile phones. Almost a quarter (23%) go to shopping centres or high street shops instead, while one in ten (12%) use market stalls. Those who go to a shopping mall, the high street or a market stall can expect to pay an average of £13.91 to unlock a handset – 37% above the average charge of £10.13.
There is widespread confusion around how long the process takes and how much it should cost, as this varies hugely across the different mobile providers. And it doesn’t help that almost one in five (17%) people don’t know if their phone is locked or unlocked in the first place.
Three and giffgaff are the only networks that no longer lock any handsets. Some providers offer either unlocked phones or free unlocking, depending on your tariff. The rules vary greatly from provider to provider and some have only recently come into effect so if you have had your phone for a year or more it may still be locked. The table below shows the networks’ policies on unlocking, including how long it takes, how much it costs, and when it can be done:
|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|
|Tesco Mobile||Pay as you go||Anytime||£10 for first 12 months, free thereafter||Up to 28 days|
|Three**||Pay as you go||Anytime||Free||Up to 7 days|
|Virgin Mobile***||Pay as you go||Anytime||£15.32||Up to 30 calendar days|
|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|
Source: uSwitch.com correct as of 8th June, 2015
Virgin Mobile customers may have to wait the longest for their mobile to be unlocked, with the network specifying a wait time of up to 30 calendar days, while Three has the shortest waiting time, at seven working days. The research reveals that a third (34%) of mobile customers believe the unlocking process to be instant.
Confusion around the process could explain why almost half (48%) of mobile users haven’t unlocked a single phone in the past five years. Almost nine in ten (87%) would like to see unlocking become free of charge across all networks, and more than half (56%) feel that it should not invalidate the warranty if they are still the person using it.
However, the main reason for unlocking a phone – cited by 46% of mobile users – is to move to a SIM-only deal at the end of a contract. SIM-only deals are becoming increasingly popular and, in some cases, can save consumers around £300 a year on their mobile phone bills. In addition, almost a quarter (23%) of those who’ve unlocked mobiles in the past five years wanted to pass handsets on to family members.
Rob Kerr, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, says: “With the SIM-only market growing in popularity, we anticipate more and more people will want to unlock their phones at the end of their contracts, so they can find cheaper deals. At the moment, unlocking a handset is confusing, with the process differing so greatly from network to network.
“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?
“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.
“It’s shocking that so many people think unlocking a phone is illegal, especially when there are so many good reasons to do it. It means you can take advantage of cheap SIM-only deals on any network once your contract has ended, and use local SIM cards in your phone to save money when roaming abroad. It may also add value if you decide to sell an old handset.”
To find out how to unlock a handset, read uSwitch’s full guide to unlocking mobile phones HERE.
For more information visit www.uswitch.com or call 0800 093 0607