AT&T and T-Mobile have come together to help their customers fight against smartphone theft, by launching a new database that makes using a stolen handset nearly impossible.
The two carriers, which both use the same GSM technology to run their networks, can now block a device that is believed to be stolen from being used on each other’s networks, via a unique identifier number. Known as IMEI, the number tells networks what make the device is and who owns it, allowing carriers to gather information and block signals to the phone if suspected stolen.
In the past, compromised smartphones were blocked by eliminating a particular SIM card. However, this approach was unsuccessful as a thief could easily replace the stolen smartphone’s SIM card with a new one. Yet by focusing on the IMEI number, carriers can render a stolen phone useless.
First announced in April, the database initiative is a joint effort between the carriers, the wireless industry group CTIA and the FCC. With a CDMA option for Verizon and Sprint expected to launch soon after, CTIA CEO Steve Largent cautions consumers that while the new database will help stop stolen smartphones from being used, it won’t prevent thieves from taking sensitive data from the devices.
“While the GSM and CDMA databases are important, consumers also play a key role in protecting their information and preventing smartphone theft,” said Largent in a statement. “By using passwords or PINs, as well as remote wiping capabilities, consumers can help to dry up the aftermarket for stolen devices.”