The groups announced a four-step initiative Tuesday morning to stem smartphone crime, which New York Senator Charles Schumer says accounts for 42 percent of all robberies. The initiative so far has support from the big four wireless operators in the U.S., Verizon Wireless , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. , as well as rural Kansas operator Nex-Tech Wireless .
The four steps include:
- Wireless operators will create databases of unique smartphone identifying numbers, International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, similar to what cars have, so that when a smartphone is reported stolen, it is identified and prevented from being activated on any compatible network. These will be created by the individual operator for GSM networks by October and merged to create one Long Term Evolution (LTE) database by November 2013
- Handset makers will take steps to notify wireless customers of features to secure and lock their smartphones with passwords upon activation, as well as in their user guides
- Wireless operators will provide education via email or text messages about applications that also lock, locate and erase data from smartphones
- The wireless industry will launch an online educational campaign for consumers on how to prevent smartphone theft and safely use their devices
Why this matters
Smartphone robberies have grown to be a serious problem -- surpassing even Air Jordan mania, as outlined by a number of police chiefs and commissioners at Tuesday's press conference. As Schumer put it, smartphones -- at $600 a pop -- are catnip for criminals, which is even more dangerous considering the personal information stored on the phone.
"What we're announcing here today will make a stolen cell phone about as worthless an empty wallet," Schumer said of the initiative. But, as an audience member pointed out in the question-and-answer period, it does have its limitations. Namely, operator's databases of unique identifying numbers for phones won't interoperate at launch, so a thief may be able to alter the IMEI number or pop in a new SIM and try again elsewhere.
Right now, it is not illegal to do so, but legislation has been proposed to make it illegal to tamper with a phone's IMEI number. Christopher Guttman-McCabe, the CTIA's VP of regulatory affairs, also said the goal is to eventually link CDMA and GSM carrier databases, as well as link them with others internationally, so stolen phones can't be taken out of the country. But in the interest of getting a solution to market quickly, it will start out bifurcated between CDMA and GSM carriers.
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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile