Locked mobile phones

May 9, 2019

When individuals choose a mobile network, there are a multitude of aspects they consider. Cost of calls, data costs, connectivity and network speed are just some of the sticking point s that consumers base their decisions around.

But what happens if a consumer wishes to switch networks, but cannot because their phone is Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) locked? Recently, the Consumer Council of Fiji has received queries with reference to locking of phones by mobile giants Vodafone and Digicel and whether or not there is specific legislation against this.

Why are phones SIM locked?

A locked mobile phone is one that has been restricted by software for use with a single network carrier. They are usually Global System for Mobile (GSM) phones that use SIM cards which is why it is commonly referred to as SIM lock. The Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications is the network standard for much of the world.

The general reason network providers SIM lock phones is because they offer these phones at a discount to customers. This discounted price is offered in exchange for a contract to pay for the use of the network for a specified time period or indefinitely.

The arrangement usually allows the company to recoup the cost of the phone over the life of the contract or through the services provided on their platforms. Some network providers offer these sim-locked phones at discounts of hundreds of dollars. These discounts could amount to nothing if they were not locked to a specific network as they would have no way to recover the costs incurred should the consumer choose a different network carrier.

Advantages of unlocked phones

The obvious benefit of having an unlocked phone is that consumers can easily switch operators. All you have to do is sign up for service and insert the new SIM. There’s no need to buy a new phone or pay to have your current handset unlocked. This is good for consumers as it allows for comparative shopping for the cheapest service instead of being stuck with a particular network because you don’t want to buy a new phone.

Consumer choice

Currently network providers in Fiji SIM lock their phones, however, the Council calls on these providers to clearly inform consumers of the options available to them.

Most consumers are informed that their phones purchased from respective mobile network companies are SIM locked. But they must also be informed if it is possible to pay a higher price for an unlocked version of the same phone.

Mobile network companies must give consumers choice. They must, where possible give consumers the option to purchase either a locked or unlocked phone which does not impose any SIM restrictions. This option may interest consumers who want to switch networks down the line to take advantage of new or improved services.

What consumers can do?

Consumers must always be aware of their rights and responsibilities when they are in the market place.

  • Consumers can shop around for the best deals on their phones. While mobile network companies primarily sell SIM locked phones, there are other alternatives for consumers to choose from.
  • There are businesses who deal primarily with electronic goods and these businesses sell phones that are unlocked. Comparative shopping is essential when determining a phone that is value for your money.
  • Consumers should also enquire whether mobile phone providers sell unlocked phones, although they may have to pay a higher price for these handsets. The consumer must be able to make an informed choice.
  • Some businesses may sell cheap phones that at face value look good but are of inferior quality. It is important, therefore, to consider price of product, features and functions of phone and whether or not the phone’s operating system is compatible with intended use.

Consumers facing issues with phones they have purchased are urged to contact the Council’s toll-free National Consumer Helpline on 155. Alternatively, they can email complaints@consumersfiji.org