(Instagram, @vodacom)
(Instagram, @vodacom)
  • SA’s three largest cellphone operators have all started network-locking smartphones again. 
  • Network-locked smartphones have not being sold in South Africa for the last 10 years. 
  • Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C say they subsidise network-locked phones to make them more accessible.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

South Africa's three largest mobile network providers, Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C, have all started to release network-locked phones – for the first time in nearly a decade. 

Network-locked devices are tied to one operator, so that a networked-lock phone from MTN will not work with a Vodacom SIM card, and vice versa.

Tech Central reported that First National Bank was the first local company to start selling network-locked phone again. Other network operators have since slowly started releasing similar devices.

South Africa doesn’t currently have any regulations which prevent operators from network-locking phones, though locked phones have not been common for at least a decade.

Also read: Vodacom, MTN and Rain are preparing for e-SIM cards in SA. Here’s how it will work

Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C said network-locked phones are subsidised and sold at a lower cost to increase accessibility. 

Only entry-level devices are currently network-locked by the operators, with MTN’s network-locked phone starting at R249. That handset sold out after launching in April. 

Vodacom said that – in theory – all phones can be network-locked. 

“However, it requires agreement between [the] manufacturer and the network operator for it to be implemented,” Vodacom told Business Insider South Africa. 

The operator said it would make no business sense to sell devices below cost without the prospect of recovering some of that investment when the device is used on its network – such as when buyers defect to a rival network.

Network locking was common in South Africa until it fell out of favour through a combination of consumer complaints, threats by regulator Icasa to ban the practice (in rules that were subsequently abandoned), and a rise in services that helped consumers unlock their phones.

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