The nation’s four largest wireless carriers are working with the US Government to build and support a database of lost and stolen phones. The carriers have agreed to deny both voice and data service for phones added to the database will be denied . Carriers will setup their own databases and eventually roll them into a centralized repository sometime within the next 18 months. Eventually, smaller carriers will also join and add their stolen/lost phones to the database.
This database was designed to help police combat mobile phone theft, which is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. Currently, Verizon and Sprint have technology to block phones that are reported as lost and stolen, while T-Mobile and AT&T do not. Verizon and Sprint both run CDMA networks which use unique Electronic Serial Numbers (ESNs) to mange the phones on their network. This unique ID makes it easier for the carrier to track and block lost/stolen mobile phones.
AT&T and T-Mobile do not block lost/stolen phones because their GSM technology uses SIM cards which can easily be removed from a phone. Once a SIM is removed from a stolen phone, the handset can be sold on eBay and Craigslist. The new owner can pop in their valid SIM and go on their merry way without knowing the handset was stolen. Despite this technical challenge, the two carriers are looking for methods that would use something besides a SIM to verify the phones on thei network.
In this end, this is a win-win situation for wireless customers who can report their lost/stolen phone and know that the person who has the device won’t be able to do anything with it.