Unlocked phones are identical to network-locked phones. That may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s surprising how many people think that they are somehow different, and that unlocking is somehow illegal. Whether it’s because of the Apple-initiated rumours that jailbreaking an iPhone is illegal (it isn’t, and is merely a fairly distant relative of unlocking anyway), or that people are confused between unlocking and the very illegal unblocking of a blocked phone, it’s not clear.
What is clear, however, is that having an unlocked phone doesn’t bring a single disadvantage over the same phone that is locked to a particular network. Most carriers lock every handset they supply by default, thereby tying a customer into their network for as long as possible, in many cases even long past the end of the contract term when customers are often still paying a rate that originally included the cost of the handset broken down into monthly payments.
Recent legislation introduced by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, means switching networks should get easier, but what the problem remains that phones from most networks will remain locked, and many charge a fee to unlock them.
One of the biggest problems, though, in having a phone locked to a network provider is what happens when the phone user travels abroad. Crippling call and data costs make the handset all but unusable in most cases, even receiving a handful of texts or phone calls can add £s to a monthly contract or make any PAYG credit disappear at an alarming rate.
Until the EU recently introduced restrictions on roaming charges, data could cost up to £0.46 per MB. If that doesn’t sound a lot, consider that the average smartphone user in the UK uses around 500MB of data each month. Assuming you go on holiday for 2 weeks, a conservative 200MB of e-mail, web browsing and Facebook use could cost you nearly £100 in roaming charges. Even after the restrictions were introduced, it can still cost up to £0.18 per MB of data. Go outside Europe, and the costs remain eye-wateringly high.
Having an unlocked phone when travelling means you just have to buy a PAYG Sim from a network in the country you’re visiting to get greatly reduced call and data costs. Shop around before you go and, for as little as £10, you can get 100 minutes, 500 texts and 250mb of data. With a phone that is locked to a UK network, you are stuck with the UK network charges.
The same principle applies in the UK. Take on a rolling monthly or PAYG contract, and you’re free to switch at any time, and can even carry multiple SIMs if you are going to an area of the UK that may have patchy coverage for your preferred network. None of this can be done with a locked phone. No signal in the Scottish Highlands on a locked phone? Better start looking for a phone box and saving those 10p pieces!
Other advantages of unlocked phones is that half of your phone’s memory isn’t being swallowed by useless, carrier-specific apps, some of which can’t be uninstalled or disabled whilst the phone is locked to the carrier. Unlocked phones also hold their value much better than the same locked model and, let’s face it, nobody ever went on eBay to buy a locked phone.
There isn’t a single advantage to having a phone locked to a carrier. It may seem like the right thing to do because the carrier will give you the phone for free or at minimal cost but, unless you give your network 30 days’ notice a month before the end of the contract, you’ll still be making your huge monthly payment long after the phone has ceased being of much use. And the reward for this loyalty from your network if you ask for an unlock code? That’ll be £15 please.
Having an unlocked phone makes financial, practical and, above all perfect common sense.
Take a look at some of the unlocked phones available on Max’s Deals: