Is Unlocking Illegal?
Thousands, maybe even millions of people every year use various services to get the network restriction removed from their mobile phones. Many people are still very cautious because they don't know if they are breaking the law by using these services. It is a very misunderstood industry, however I hope after reading this page you will have a better understanding of this subject and your legal rights.
Is Unlocking Illegal?
The answer to this question is a resounding NO! Do you have a legal right to use a service to remove the network restriction on your mobile phone? To answer this question we must first ask - do you own your mobile phone and what country are you in? If you purchase a 'Sim Free' mobile phone or a phone on a 'Pay As You Go' tariff then yes, you own your mobile phone, it is your property. However, if you obtained your mobile phone by signing a contract (12 months, 18 months, 24 months etc.), the phone does not become your property until the contract has been honoured and paid in full, even if you made an initial payment for the phone when you signed the contract! So, if you purchased your phone 'Sim Free' or on a 'Pay As You Go' tariff then yes, you own your mobile phone and you have a legal right to have the network restriction removed from your phone. If you obtained your phone on contract, it may not be illegal to have the network restriction removed from your phone, however you may be in breach of your contract terms and therefore could be subject to legal action by the supplier. For most people the country is not an issue, however in some countries (I believe in the USA from January 2013) it is illegal to have the network restriction removed from a mobile phone without the express permission of the original network. Note that they cannot actually refuse you permission to have the network restriction removed from any phone you own, however they may insist that you use their own service or a specific service they have endorsed.
So Why Do Networks Lock Phones?
The networks will tell you that they lock mobile phones because the customer gets the phone at 'below cost price' and is less likely to switch networks if there is a network lock in place. If the customer remains on their network, over time they can claw back the revenue lost when the customer obtained the phone at below cost price. Okay, I'll buy into that theory with contract mobile phones, because it usually works out that you're getting the phone slightly cheaper that you would if you was to sign up to a 'Sim Only' plan and buy the phone outright. However this does not explain the locking of pay as you go mobile phones! Once again the networks will try to convince you that, even with pay as you go phones, you get the phone at below cost price. Sorry, but I'm not convinced. I am fully aware that the networks have huge purchasing power and they have the ability to purchase hundreds of thousands of handsets at a price much lower than you pay on the high street. I would challenge any network to show me statistical evidence that they make a loss on the basis of sale minus cost alone. In my honest opinion, the networks lock mobile phones so that you will stay with them and keep spending your money with them and not a competing network.
Is The Network Breaking The Law?
Every time I explain to one of my customers that mobile phone unlocking is not illegal and they have a legal right to have the network restriction removed from any mobile phone they own, I am usually asked the question 'Is the network breaking the law by locking the phone in the first place?'. In short, NO they're not breaking the law! The networks have a right to lock mobile phones, however they cannot make it impossible for the network restriction to be removed as that would be a breach of consumer rights. That's the one single thing you have to remember, as a consumer you have a legal right to use any mobile phone you own on whatever network you choose!
What About Unblocking?
I want to make it abundantly clear that unlocking and unblocking are two completely different things. Unlocking is a legal activity that removes a network restriction to allow the use of alternative network sim cards. Unblocking is an illegal activity whereby the unique identity of a mobile device is re-programmed to bypass systems that are in place to prevent mobile phone fraud and theft. Unlocks does not, never has and never will participate in the unblocking of mobile phones and we will never knowingly supply an unlock code for any blocked, barred or blacklisted mobile phone.
Below is a link to the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit pages on the Metropolitan Police website where you can find more information about the laws surrounding unlocking and unblocking (re-programming). Pay specific attention to the 'Unlocking' section as this makes it clear that mobile phone unlocking is not illegal.