"Unlocked" Nokia Lumia 920 trapped on EE

PC Pro Exclusive: Customers find "SIM-free" Lumia handsets are actually locked to EE's network

Nicole Kobie
6 Feb 2013

Customers buying "unlocked" Nokia Lumia 920 handsets from retailer Phones 4U are finding their devices are in fact trapped on the EE network.

The Lumia 920 landed as an exclusive in the UK for mobile operator EE in November, but it's also being sold SIM-free via Phones 4U.

One PC Pro reader bought his Lumia 920 soon after launch in November. He specifically asked Phones 4U sales staff whether he could use it on any network. In a an online chat session - which we've seen a copy of - a Phones 4U staff member promised it was "completely unlocked" and would work with his Vodafone SIM.

That turned out not be the case. Three days later, after receiving his Lumia 920 and finding it didn't work, he again used Phones 4U's online chat support. He was told: "I'm sorry Peter, the phones are locked to EE, Orange and T Mobile."

As the once-proud owner of a £460 smartphone I'm singularly unimpressed by the performance of all concerned

Phones 4U did eventually offer Peter a refund, but he declined it after discovering on the Orange website that handsets could be unlocked after three months.

Orange and EE - though connected - are operated as separate companies, but an EE spokeswoman said they shared the same unlocking policy. However, after he applied for an unlocking code three months after purchase, EE told Peter it doesn't unlock phones purchased from Phones 4U.

"As the once-proud owner of a £460 smartphone I'm singularly unimpressed by the performance of all concerned," he said.

While he admits in hindsight he should have simply taken the refund, forum posts show he's not the only customer to take this route, or to be confused by the issue.

"Common misconception"

Phones 4U admitted that its marketing initially wasn't clear enough about the difference between "unlocked" and "SIM free".

"When we first announced [the handset] at the end of October, it was announced as an exclusive to EE," a spokeswoman told PC Pro. "We did advertise it online and in-store as being SIM-free, not unlocked specifically... however, soon after the handset launched we did realise from the number of queries we were getting that there was a common misconception that SIM-free means unlocked, and people were buying it SIM-free thinking it would work on any network and it wasn't the case."

After Phones 4U received "a lot" of complaints, staff were "rebriefed", and the website and sales material were altered. "Since that time, we've not had any complaints about it or queries about it," she claimed, although recent EE forum posts suggest sales staff continue to give confusing information.

As happened with Peter, customers were given a refund if they complained within 14 days, and anyone still affected would be dealt with on a "case by case" basis, she said.

"We can’t unlock phones and we would advise our customers from getting them unlocked as it does void the warranty," she added. "We can’t unlock that phone and make it work on any other network."

She admitted it was rare for phones to be SIM-free but not unlocked, saying she could think of no other phone on the store's website with such conditions.

We've put Peter in touch with Phone 4U's press office in the hopes he'll get a more positive resolution this time around.

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