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Ofcom has ruled that from December next year, mobile service providers won't be able to flog phones that are locked to make it easier for customers to switch networks if they fancy.
The regulator says the current system has put some customers off switching.
The new rule will affect BT, EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone, all of which currently sell phones that are locked to their own networks unless an unlocking fee, usually around £10, is paid.
Rival companies Sky, Three, O2 and Virgin already sell unlocked handsets.
In statements to The Guardian, spokespeople from Vodafone UK and EE both said they were ready and willing to follow the new rules.
Research from regulator Ofcom found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off.
While almost half of customers who do try to unlock their phone have been hit with difficulties, including delays or loss of service, while doing so.
Ofcom connectivity director Selina Chadha, 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."
Richard Neudegg, from comparison site Uswitch, has praised the move, telling The Daily Mail: "Today's announcement on mobile handset locking will finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice.
"From December 2021, mobile providers which have continued to sell handsets locked to just one network, will no longer be able to do so, consigning the fiddly 'unlocking' process to the history books.
"Despite some modest improvements to the process, unlocking, when required, is often a pain - with Ofcom's data showing that nearly half of customers who go through it experience some sort of difficulty.
"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."
Ofcom said there would be a broader package of measures to support the switching process.
The communication regulator is now planning on holding a consultation to look at an easier and more simple process for customers to switch their broadband providers.
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