unlocked mobile phones

Locked and Unlocked Mobile Phones – A Comprehensive Guide


The global telecommunication and wireless industry is on the rise due to the immediate improvement in the field of technology. This aspect has significantly enhanced user experience as the final customer has a lot of choices when it comes to availing the services of a carrier network. However, the initial lack of availability of unlocked mobile phones continues to haunt modern consumers, even to this day.

Premium carrier networks work with locked phones to enhance customer loyalty. The primary objective of this strategy was to make mobile phones affordable by contractually binding end users to the services of a specific network. However, locked phones significantly restricted users from switching networks freely. 

Some of the primary features of locked phones are:

  • Subsidised pricing benefits for the customers.
  • Enhanced customer support from the carrier network.
  • Access to special carrier amenities and features.
  • Restrictions imposed on switching carrier services.
  • High international roaming charges implemented.
  • Pre-installed carrier-based applications that consume more storage space.

Let us now explore the bubble of locked and unlocked mobile phones to identify relevant answers that allow us to gain complete knowledge about the two concepts.

What is a Locked Mobile Phone?

Locked phones employ a specific software code that restricts an individual from switching carrier service and using the phone on a different mobile network. Unlocked mobile phones offer users additional flexibility as there are no provisions for software codes that restrict users from switching networks.

Mobile phones unlocked will be able to support and complement SIM cards of diverse carrier networks. Once a phone is unlocked, the user has complete freedom to select and update carrier services at their convenience.

What Does it Mean to Have a Locked Mobile Phone?

Locked mobile phones are bound by a contract established by a specific carrier service provider. The primary objective of locked phone services is to enhance customer loyalty by preventing them from switching carrier networks in exchange for mobile devices marked at a considerably lower price.

Locked mobile phones feature preinstalled carrier applications and offer additional customer service and support benefits directly from the network operator responsible. However, smartphone users also need to acknowledge the restrictions imposed on international roaming due to the incompatibility of the device to support other carrier networks.

Due to these attributes, more people around the United Kingdom prefer to unlock mobile phones to capitalise on the flexibility aspect. The overall aspect of reusing mobile devices becomes considerably easier with unlocked mobile phones.

Which Network Locks Their Phone to Their Network?

The Office of Communication, or Ofcom, is the governing body that is in charge of setting standards and monitoring regulations of the telecommunications industry in the UK. According to a recent report issued by Ofcom in December of 2021, mobile phone companies are entirely banned from selling locked phones to the general public.

However, locked mobile handsets that were manufactured before the establishment of this standard continue to exist. Let us review some of the most popular carrier networks in the UK to determine if they provide locked phone services:


EE initially worked with locked phones that were backed with effective monthly and PAYG plans. According to the service policies of the EE network, individuals who had purchased carrier-locked phones coupled with monthly plans could only unlock the handset after six months of purchase.

To unlock EE-locked mobiles, users must dial “150” or “0800 956 6000” to connect with the customer support team. Additional unlocking charges of £8.99 are applied for customers who are presently under contract with the carrier firm. However, users can unlock the handset for free if the tenure of the contract has expired.

PAYG and SIM-only EE users can directly unlock the handset by paying an additional fee of £8.99. Users who directly purchase a handset directly from the EE network can unlock their devices for free. Unlocking services are activated according to the brand preferred by the concerned customer.

For example, EE-locked Apple devices conventionally require seven days to effectively unlock. Other handsets belonging to different brands need around ten days to unlock.

B. Tesco

Tesco also works with PAYG and monthly plan-based carrier-locked phones, which can be unlocked with relative ease. Individuals who use pay-monthly locked phones can unlock the handset for free. However, the timeline to activate Tesco’s mobile unlock phone services may vary. This automatically implies that users who have purchased recently released phones will not be able to unlock the handset immediately.

Customers who prefer PAYG Tesco Mobile plans can unlock the handset after serving twelve months under the contract. However, no additional charges will be applied for unlocking the handset after completing twelve months as specified under the contract. Additional unlocking charges of £10 will be applicable for handsets that do not fulfil the contractual timeline.

Tesco Mobile users conventionally have to wait anywhere between seven to twenty days to effectively receive unlocking codes. Customers can call “4422” or “0345 301 4455” to connect with the Tesco customer support team.

C. Vodafone

According to the service policies of Vodafone, all mobile monthly pay and PAYG devices issued post-July 2013 will be locked under the carrier network service. However, the timeline of the contract is not as rigid when compared to other carrier companies.

Both PAYG and monthly-pay customers of Vodafone can unlock the handset for free. Monthly-pay users can activate unlocking benefits almost immediately. However, PAYG customers must use the carrier-restricted handset for at least thirty days before opting for unlocking benefits. A wait time of ten days will be required to activate unlocking benefits for Vodafone PAYG users.

Individuals can dial “191” on their independent Vodafone handset or use the “03333 040 191” helpline to connect with the customer support team.

D. Sky Mobile

Are Sky Mobiles unlocked? The answer is Yes! All handsets supplied by Sky Mobile are not limited by the services of the carrier firm. Consequently, final customers do not have to worry about any additional charges to activate unlocking benefits. Sky Mobile subscribers can dial “0330 041 2639” to effectively connect with the customer support team if any issues concerning locked mobile phones arise.

E. Three

Three has limited the production of locked mobile phones since 13 December 2013. All the devices issued by the carrier network post this timeline are unlocked straight from the box. However, mobile devices purchased before this timeline have a carrier restriction imposed.

Three works with a customer-friendly policy concerning locked phones, as the carrier network offers unlocking benefits without applying any additional charges. Moreover, users can activate unlocking amenities at any point in time, according to their convenience. A total waiting time of seven days is required to update unlocking benefits of Three carrier restricted handsets.

Customers can dial “0800 033 8006” to connect with the support team if any issues concerning mobile locking are experienced.

Related Article: Benefits of Buying a Carrier Unlocked Phone – Why You Should Buy One

Why do Users Want to Unlock Their Mobile Phones?

There are multiple reasons why people choose to purchase unlocked mobile phones:

A. Cheaper Mobile Plans

Users are free to select the services of their preferred carrier network. This allows individuals to capitalise on cheaper mobile plans offered by a diverse set of mobile carrier companies.

B. Increases Phone Value

An unlocked mobile phone has greater value as its overall potential to be compatible with different carrier networks increases. Thus, if an end user wishes to resell the handset, a greater market value can be generated.

C. Roaming Ease

The need to travel to foreign locations exists in the life of every working professional. The primary issue with locked handsets is that they may not function adequately while being present in a foreign location. Conventionally, the charges implied on roaming are also considerably high.

How Much Does it Cost to Unlock a Phone?

The time taken to activate unlocking services and the cost incurred to avail such benefits entirely depends on the carrier network’s policy preferred by the end user. People generally are under the misconception that unlocking a phone can be initiated almost instantly. 

However, such is not the case, as carrier companies need to follow specific protocols and standards to update service benefits. Conventionally, unlocked mobile phone services are activated anywhere between seven to thirty days after the application. Connect with your carrier network to learn more about the unlocking timeline and the additional charges applied.

How do I Find Out if my Mobile Phone is Locked?

Users can easily identify if they are working with unlocked mobile phones. All you need to do is insert a new SIM card originating from a different carrier company. If you have a locked phone, then the new carrier SIM card will not be functional on the device. Users will not be able to avail any mobile network with a foreign carrier SIM card.

However, if the handset is unlocked, then individuals will be able to use the mobile phone freely and initiate calling and texting amenities by accessing the complete mobile network offered by the foreign carrier SIM.

Also Read: How do I know if my Phone is Unlocked – An Ultimate Guide

How to Unlock Your Phone?

There are several ways through which an individual can unlock mobile phone. The two most common and preferred options are seeking direct assistance from the carrier network or collaborating with a third-party service provider.

Option 1: Third-Party Assistance

Mobile phone users can seek assistance from third-party service providers that specialise in unlocking handsets. Conventionally, a nominal charge of £15 is applied to avail such service from external providers. These third-party professionals use a particular code or incorporate software that updates phone unlocking amenities.

Seeking assistance from external service providers is completely legal. However, individuals do risk violating the term policies established by the carrier network concerned. Therefore, it is also recommended to gain carrier approval before opting for this measure.

Option 2: Unlocking Phone with Carrier Network Assistance

The safest and most convenient method of unlocking a mobile phone is by directly availing carrier support. Ensure to verify the terms and conditions of additional charges applied and the time taken to activate unlocking settings.

Upon connecting with the carrier customer support team, users must disclose details about the handset’s IMEI number. This sequence of numbers provides your mobile phone with a distinct identity and allows your carrier company to locate the exact model and serial number of manufacturing. Follow these steps to find the IMEI number:

  • For Android Users:

Android users can avail IMEI information by navigating to the settings menu. Unlock your Android and click on the primary settings option. Click on the “About Phone” tab and select the “Status” option. The IMEI information should be updated on your mobile screen.

  • For iOS Users:

iOS users with iPhone 7 and onwards need to navigate to the primary settings menu and click on the “General” option. Scroll down and select the “About IMEI” tab to extract details. iPhone 6 and preceding models will find the IMEI number printed on the SIM tray and the back cover of the device.

Both Apple and Android users can dial the code *#06# to extract IMEI details. Disclose the IMEI details to the carrier support team so that the unlocking process can be initiated.

Benefits of Unlocking a Mobile Phone?

Unlocked mobile phones offer a wide range of benefits:

A. Cheap SIM Deals

As already specified, unlocked mobile phones allow users to select the best carrier network that offers cheap and affordable SIM deals. Therefore, availing the services of the UK’s number 1 network, Talk Home Mobile, becomes increasingly straightforward.

Talk Home Mobile offers the widest reach that is backed with lightning-fast 5G speed. Choose the Talk Home Monthly, Annual, PAYG, International, or Data Bolt-ons, according to your preference, by opting for unlocked mobile phones.

B. Ability to Upgrade Phone

Due to its compatibility with a wide range of carrier networks, unlocked mobile phones hold a greater value in the market than their counterparts. Likewise, the concept of resale becomes easier as users have the freedom to upgrade and purchase new mobile phones at their convenience.

C. Free Roaming

The compatibility feature of unlocked mobile phones helps individuals to capitalise on the free-roaming benefits offered by Talk Home Mobile across all EU nations. Availability of cheap roaming amenities has never been easier by coupling Talk Home Mobile plans and unlocked smartphones.


These were some of the foremost benefits offered by unlocked mobile phones. The initial cost of purchase for such unlocked handsets might be more; however, the flexibility offered by these devices is far superior to its counterpart. Ensure to conduct thorough online research to learn more about this concept.

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