AT&T, T-Mobile activate database to combat smartphone theft

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AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA officially joined a database intended to fight back against smartphone theft by making stolen phones unusable on their networks. 

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) have their own CDMA databases, and the four carriers are expected to merge their efforts by Nov. 30, 2013, to create a single, national database, including LTE phones (the deadline for the GSM carriers to launch their database was today). Together the four Tier 1 carriers offer service to around 90 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers.

In April the four carriers, along with the CTIA, agreed to join with the FCC and police departments to create the national database to track unique smartphone identification numbers. Previously, carriers blocked stolen phones from being used by blocking the device's SIM card. However, if a thief swapped out the SIM card the phone could still be used and sold on the black market. The new databases will use and block the device's unique IMEI number, allowing carriers to keep stolen phones off their networks. 

Smaller carriers like Nex-Tech and Cellcom are also on board and there are plans to link the national U.S. database to an international one maintained by the GSMA.

The carriers in April also said they would work with Congress on legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with a phone in an effort to stop the blocking process. The overall goal is to make stolen cellphones less valuable. The CTIA said it and the carriers will also focus on educating consumers about their ability to secure and lock their smartphones, as well as how to locate and erase their phones remotely and how to prevent thefts.

Some carriers, as well as mobile security firms like Lookout, Norton and NQ Mobile, offer the ability to remotely wipe data from stolen phones. According to the FCC, over the past year roughly one-third of robberies nationwide have involved the theft of a cellphone.

"The point of the blacklist database is to dry up the aftermarket for stolen phones," Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs, told CNN. "If you can't reactivate a stolen phone, it's just a worthless hunk of plastic and metal."

For more:
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this CNN article

Related Articles:
AT&T to prevent stolen phones from accessing its network
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile join forces to combat smartphone theft
RIM to offer enterprise security for iOS, Android devices  
Sprint launches Norton Mobile Security Lite app

Article updated Nov. 1 to reflect that Verizon and Sprint are operating their own CDMA databases.