Lessons From Across The Border: FCC, US Wireless Carriers Partner To Battle Cellphone Theft

by Gaurav Kheterpal on April 10, 2012

Given the recent proliferation of high-end smartphones, cellphone theft is a reality everywhere and America is no exception to that rule. The worst part – a large number of stolen cellphones are used as to commit other heinous crimes.

Though certain countries such as Australia and the U.K. have found reasonable success cracking down on stolen mobile phones, cellphone theft continues to be a global problem at large. Across the border, the major wireless providers have agreed to a deal with the U.S. government to build a central database of stolen cellphones—in order to help crackdown on the worrying trend of increasing thefts nationwide.

The U.S. wireless carriers will work with the federal regulators and local law enforcement to create a centralized database to identify stolen phones and render them useless. In that context, though we’ve heard similar sporadic requests in Canada, neither the government nor the CRTC has paid due attention to it.

The wireless carriers will utilize the proposed database to identify stolen cellphones and deny them voice and data service. Though certain carriers (Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp.) already track and disable stolen cellphones, there’s been no uniformity due to a lack of directives from the FCC. It is expected that the shared database will be up and running in the US in six months and the carriers plan to expand it globally over 18 months. Regional carriers are expected to join the database within the next two years.

Consumers will be able to access the centralized database to notify their wireless provider of a theft and in turn their provider will block the device from being used again. It is believed that the database would use the unique serial numbers of devices would be used to keep track of stolen phones. The FCC says the mobile providers taking part in the initiative — leading carrier Verizon, No. 2 AT&T, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T- Mobile USA Inc. — cover 90 percent of U.S. subscribers.

It is believed that the database will also include tablet computers with wireless data plans. The FCC also plans to share this database with the regulatory bodies in developing countries that don’t have stolen-phone databases in place.

In January, I wrote a piece on why thieves love striking Apple Stores and stealing iPhones. Back then, I emphasized that though Apple provides several apps to track stolen devices, it’s proved to be ineffective in most such cases. While there is no doubt that Apple strongly needs to revise its theft policy to protect customers and tighten security and surveillance in/ around its stores, there’s a strong need for a regulatory push to crack down on vendors/ individuals purchasing stolen devices.

I hope the CRTC and the federal government are taking note.

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Written by: Gaurav Kheterpal. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.comby:RSS,TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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