No need for smart phone protection here: Wireless group

The group representing Canada’s wireless carriers see no need to follow their U.S. cousins in collaborating to stop smart phone theft.

Marc Choma, a spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), said in an email there are no formal discussions between Ottawa and carriers about creating a national stolen phone database, as was announced earlier this week in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. telecommuncations regulator, and the the CTIA Wireless Association, which represents the wireless industry, announced a three-part plan to help prevent smartphone theft and protect consumers’ personal data from falling into the hands of criminals.

Canadian carriers have long been keeping track of stolen devices on their own networks to prevent stolen devices from being activated on their own networks, Choma wrote. “However, cross-carrier collection of information, including the ability of all service providers in the country to track, detect and deactivate devices would be incredibly complex and costly. As well, it is not clear who would manage and pay for such a system. CWTA will be exploring this issue with the carriers in the coming months to see what might be feasible in terms of expanding theft prevention practices.”

Under the U.S. plan, wireless carriers will create a nationwide database of smart phones that catalogs every single International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number currently in use and then uses the number to remotely deactivate smartphones when they are reported stolen. The database, which is expected to be online by November, will prevent any stolen GSM phone from being used on any GSM network in the United States. CTIA also said that carriers are working on a similar database for LTE devices that is scheduled to come online by the end of 2013.
The second part of the plan involves sending users direct notifications via SMS containing information on how to create secure passwords for their devices that can be used to lock down the phone and prevent thieves from accessing it. Finally, the carriers are also planning to educate consumers about mobile applications they can download onto their devices that give them the ability to remotely lock, locate or wipe data from their smartphone if it gets stolen. The carriers plan to fully enact both of these initiatives by spring 2013.

That the U.S. plan won’t cover all cellphones, only those that use GSM and LTE networks. So subscribers using handsets running on the older CDMA networks of Sprint-Nextel or Metro PCS — or Sprint’s WiMax network — aren’t protected.  However, those using Metro PCS’ LTE network would be protected. Carriers usually sell simpler phones on discount plans on CDMA networks compared to the smart phones on GSM, HSPA and LTE data networks.

AT&T is the biggest GSM carrier in the U.S. It also has an LTE network, so all of its subscribers will be covered. T-Mobile also has a GSM/HSPA network.

In Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. operates GSM and LTE networks. BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility and Telus Communications Co. have three wireless networks: CDMA, HSPA (which is compatible with GSM) and LTE. Public Mobile has a CDMA network. New wireless companies Videotron, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity have GSM-compatible HSPA networks.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said during a news conference announcing the initiative that he wants consumers to know that both the FCC and the wireless industry have “got your back.” He said the major goal of the initiative was to make sure that stealing smartphones is no longer profitable, since thieves will quickly find that stolen smartphones are bricked within hours of taking them. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during the news conference that the initiative was particularly important since smartphones are increasingly storing users’ personal data and are being used for sensitive applications such as mobile payments.
“iPhones and smartphones are catnip for criminals,” he said. “They’re valuable, they’re exposed and they’re easy to steal. … They’re not only stealing the device they’re stealing personal information.”
Schumer also said that he was introducing legislation today that would make it a crime to alter a smartphone’s IMEI number to prevent it from being locked down by the national intra-carrier database. Under the proposed bill, altering the IMEI number could result in a maximum five-year prison sentence.
“We’re going to send a loud and clear message that the market for stolen cell phones is now closed,” said Schumer.

(With files from Brad Reed, Network World U.S.)

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