So all carriers (not just the Big Four) will be working on databases of reported-stolen phones. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T will have theirs ready in 6 months. 6 months after that, all four should be integrated. Between now and 24 months, the smaller regional carriers should join in.
The idea behind this is to record and track stolen devices across all carriers, so that no carrier will allow these reported phones onto their network, thus reducing the value of stolen phones to thieves, thereby reducing cell phone thefts. This is already in place in the UK, since 2002 (!), and it does seem to be having some effect. In 2004, cell phone thefts in London were approximately 10,000 per month. Last year that number was about 8,000 per month. In that same time, cell phone use has doubled. So a doubling of cell phones + a 20% decrease in reported cell phone thefts (let’s make sure we put that caveat in…) = not bad at all.
Now, this is easier for Spring and Verizon: they use CDMA which relies completely on internal information on the device. This is a little more difficult for AT&T and T-Mobile because they use GSM, which relies on very-easily-removed SIM cards. What they are going to have to do is some kind on secondary check with something internal to the device. More difficult, but certainly doable.
This will obviously not affect WiFi-only devices (I’m looking at you, tablets). Also, many stolen devices end up in China or in developing countries. This database is supposed to be interoperable with anyone outside of the US, but we’ll have to see how that works out in practice.
The article does not explicitly state if this database will be available to consumers. I think that it Must Be. A lot of people will still buy (especially iPhones) from Craigslist or eBay, and it would be Very Helpful if a consumer can check that list before clicking on that “purchase” button. If the database is not available to consumers, there must be some way they can contact a carrier or a clearinghouse to find out if a particular device has been recorded into the database. Otherwise, people will be buying devices and THEN finding out that they can’t use them, so the thief still wins and it’s the consumer who ends up hurting.
It could be possible to alter the in-software identifier on the device for those in the know (and thieves will be sure to make this easy and painless if possible). This is illegal in the UK, but not yet in the US. Now, seriously, thieves aren’t going to care about that, and it doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent in other fields, so this earns a big “meh”.
You can never completely stop theft, but by attempting to lower the resale value by saying, “Look, we know which sets are reported stolen – we’re not going to let them on to our networks” is a good approach, imnho.
Source: Wall Street Journal