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  3. 2015
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  5. Britons spend nearly £50m unlocking phones every year, amid confusion over networks’ policies

Britons spend nearly £50m unlocking phones every year, amid confusion over networks’ policies

Britons spend nearly £50m unlocking phones every year, amid confusion over networks’ policies

Britons spend a whopping £48.6 million every year on unlocking their smartphones, it has emerged, driven by misconceptions among consumers about their carriers’ policy and the rise of SIM-only contracts.

In a uSwitch study, some two-thirds of the sample said they’d paid to unlock their handset. That’s despite the fact that some networks unlock phones for free.

Confused by phone unlocking? Read our guide to unlocking your handset here: Phone unlocking explained

The poll also revealed that almost one in ten people think that unlocking a phone to use it on another network is against the law. It’s this misconception that’s surely partly why just 45% of consumers unlocked their phone through their network.

Of these, just shy of a quarter (23%) got their handset unlocked at a shopping centre or high-street store, while more than one in ten (12%) went to a market stall.

Those who went to shopping centres, stores or market paid an average of £13.91 to unlock their phone. That’s 37% higher than the average charge of £10.13.

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

Confusion also reigns around the time it takes to unlock a phone, as well as how much it should cost and whether networks lock phones as a matter of policy.

This is perhaps understandable given how much networks’ policies differ around unlocking.

So while Virgin Media customers could be waiting up to 30 calendar days, a Three customer might only wait seven.

Once again, however, the disparity seems lost on consumers. Of those quizzed, 34% think unlocking a phone is instant.

Where at least some consumers are savvier, though, is in the benefits of unlocking a phone. Among those who have unlocked a handset, 46% said it was to move to a cheaper SIM-only deal at the end of their contract.

Meanwhile, almost a quarter (23%) who have unlocked a phone in the last five years did so to pass their phone on to another family member.

Find out more and see the original uSwitch Tech press release here: Brits spend over £48 million unlocking mobile phones every year.

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