Feature Article

November 01, 2012

AT&T, T-Mobile, the FCC and CTIA Debut Database to Help Curb Smartphone Theft

As smartphones become more pervasive in our culture, so too do smartphone thieves. Smartphones are small, portable, easy to pick out of someone’s pocket or purse, and often worth up to $1,000. As there is a robust market for gently used smartphones, someone will always be willing to supply that market, often by any means necessary.

To try and combat smartphone theft, AT&T and T-Mobile have teamed up to build a database that they hope can cut back on smartphone theft. The database, which went live this week, allows AT&T and T-Mobile to block stolen devices from being used on their networks. In order to do that, the companies ban a device's IMEI number -- a unique identifier that tells networks what the device is and who owns it -- and effectively stop it from being able to place calls, according to CNet, which notes that in the past, stolen smartphones were blocked by eliminating the use of a SIM card. 

Image via Shutterstock

However, in the GSM world (AT&T and T-Mobile are both GSM carriers), a phone can be used with any SIM card. A smartphone thief could simply put a new SIM card into the phone to enable it to continue working. Targeting the IMEI number, as this new database does, means life may have just gotten a lot harder for smartphone thieves.

The database initiative was announced in April as a joint plan between AT&T, T-Mobile, the wireless industry group CTIA, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At that time, the organizations said that the GSM service would be up and running on October 31, followed by a CDMA option, which will allow Verizon and Sprint to also merge their own databases with the group soon. 

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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