Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile join forces to combat smartphone theft

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The nation's Tier 1 wireless carriers are banding together with the FCC to create a nationwide database of stolen smartphones in an effort to battle smartphone theft.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA--which represent 90 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers--will join with the FCC and police departments to create the national database using unique smartphone identification numbers. Wireless carriers will build and maintain separate databases, which will be up and running in the next six months. Within 18 months the carrier databases will be merged to form a national database that will also be used to block stolen devices from being altered to run on another carrier's network. Under the plan, which has been endorsed by the CTIA, carriers will be able disable and stop further use of a device once it is reported stolen.

The carriers are also going to 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 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.

"It's just too easy for a thief to steal a phone and sell it on the black market," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. "This program will make it a lot harder to do that. And the police departments we are working with tell us that it will significantly deter this kind of theft."

There has been an upsurge in cellphone theft as more and more people have adopted smartphones. Roughly half of all American mobile subscribers now own a smartphone, according to recent data from Nielsen. According to the FCC, over the last year, roughly one-third of robberies nationwide have involved the theft of a cellphone, with especially high proportions in urban areas. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police chiefs in the 50 largest U.S. cities, asked the FCC in February to require carriers to have the capability to track and disable stolen devices, according to Bloomberg.

For more:
- see this CTIA release
- see this NYT article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article

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