Industry teams up to fight mobile theft

Stolen handsets can now be banned from all five of the UK's mobile networks - could this reduce the number of mobiles nicked?

Britain's mobile phone operators and the GSM Association have launched a database designed to prevent stolen handsets being used on any UK mobile network.

The move is an attempt to reduce mobile phone crime in the UK, which is thought to be running at one phone theft every three minutes.

The database uses a handset's unique identity -- its IMEI number -- to allow operators to ban it from their network once it is reported stolen. This means that even if a thief adds a new SIM card to a stolen phone, it still will not work in the UK.

By teaming up, the five operators -- Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile -- can ensure that a phone that is reported stolen will be barred from every network, dramatically reducing its value.

"The Association's unique database, the Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR), will play a pivotal role in support of this excellent initiative to combat mobile theft and minimise crime," said Rob Conway, chief executive of the GSM Association, in a statement.

"We have worked closely with our UK-based operators to provide this solution, which we believe sets a great example for network operators internationally. We are uniquely positioned to extend the reach of the CEIR globally, and continue to encourage operators in all markets to follow this example," Conway added.

It is technically possible to reprogram a phone with a new IMEI number. However, the UK government's Mobile Phone (Re-programming) Act -- which came in force last month -- makes this practice illegal. Anyone convicted of reprogramming a phone faces up to five years in prison.

It is thought that 710,000 mobiles were stolen in the UK in 2001, with a quarter of thefts taking place in London.

A phone's IMEI number can be obtained by keying *#06# or by checking behind the handset's battery.

ZDNet Germany's Dirk Delbrouck contributed to this report

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