Mobile phone resellers and vendors have applauded the launch of a $7 million industry-wide solution to disable lost and stolen mobile phones in Australia.
The solution will be based on the serial number from each mobile handset, known as an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI).
It works with anti-theft technology detecting a mobile handset's IMEI then blocking it from accessing a mobile network.
Telstra has welcomed the move. Chief of products, Lynda O’Grady, claims Telstra has already blocked more than 50,000 lost and stolen mobile phones since August 2002.
“With around 100,000 mobile phones reported either lost or stolen in Australia each year this initiative has helped address a serious and growing social problem,” she said.
The unblocking process can take up to 36 hours which should be kept in mind when requesting a phone to be blocked.
Telstra digital CDMA and Telstra Mobile Loop handsets already have their own security devices and are unable to be used once they are disconnected or suspended from a network service.
Optus has also joined the party by sharing its information on handsets reported as lost or stolen on its network.
Optus mobile managing director, Allen Lew, said the intercarrier solution implemented provided Australian consumers with a sophisticated deterrent against mobile theft.
Lew said that individual carriers had implemented blocking on their own networks but this initiative provided an additional layer of protection for consumers.
“It is still very important for customers to mind their mobile and avoid the inconvenience caused by having it lost or stolen,” he said.
A director of the Crazy John mobile phone reseller chain, Brendan Sleiter, said the solution was a "good thing for everyone".
Sleiter said disabling stolen handsets was a way of making stolen mobile phones basically useless to a black market.
“A lot of mobile phones are stolen and this is a way of stopping a black market which has capitalised on poor security technology,” he said.
“Many carriers have offered insurance against theft which has cost consumers a lot of money, but now insurance can now be used for real claims such as phone damage or malfunction.”
Retailer Harvey Norman saw the change as a way of driving sales of mobile handsets.
National manager of Harvey Norman Communications Group, Rod Orrock, said the retailer was all for the change.
He suggested that pre-paid plan sales might decrease as customers gained confidence in the mobile market and lost concerns over potentially high phone bills from theft.
“This change will close the door on what was a black market and will hopefully cease the majority of mobile phone theft altogether,” he said.
“Anything that makes consumers invest more in a safer technology is a good thing.”
The Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Senator Richard Alston, said the introduction of inter-carrier IMEI blocking across all GSM networks would make lost or stolen mobile phones virtually worthless. He said law enforcement agencies could also identify if there had been an attempt to connect a lost or stolen mobile phone on any GSM network.
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and its members had taken action to introduce inter-carrier blocking by establishing a secure database of reported lost or stolen IMEI numbers that all GSM carriers will be able to access.
The Australian Government will be introducing legislation later this year to make it an offence to 'rebirth' stolen mobile phones by modifying their IMEI.
The proposed Commonwealth offence will complement State and Territory theft offences regarding mobile phone theft.
Under the proposed legislation, it will be an offence to possess or control data or a device with the intention of it being used to illegally modify or change the IMEI of a mobile telephone. The maximum penalty for the proposed offence would be two years imprisonment.
IMEI numbers are independent of the phone number and are usually written underneath the battery on the back of the handset. Mobile phone users can also check their 15 digit IMEI number by dialling *#06# on their mobile handset.