With news coming in that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) intends to announce recommendations on blocking lost and stolen mobiles within a month’s time, through IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number based blocking, operators might have to gear up to upgrade network infrastructure in-order to implement them. The proposal is for a system, under which handsets reported stolen or lost will be blacklisted on operators networks on the basis the IMEI number, and will be unable to make or receive calls, SMS, GPRS etc.

In response to a consultation paper from the TRAI, BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications had sent their responses. An overview of what they said:

– Cost to Operators & Customers: Airtel estimates the cost of deploying a Central Equipment Identified Register at $4 million, and said that the cost should be borne by the Government or the third party agency deployed by it. All operators agreed that the service should be chargeable for the customer.

– Additional load on the network? BSNL, Tata Tele and a few others don’t think there will be  much load on the network, while Vodafone, Airtel and Idea felt otherwise, saying that they already check for MNP and DNDC (Do not disturb) databases before terminating calls. Additional expenses would be required to set-up processes and systems.

– Who maintains the database?/ National or Zonal? All agree that the database should be national as handset trafficking is rampant. While associations like the AUSPI and operators like Vodafone and Reliance feel that the database should be maintained by government agencies like NIC or DIT, many operators including Airtel, Tata Tele and BSNL suggested that a third party agency be deployed, similar to MNP.

– Legislation banning reprogramming: Operators as well as associations support the introduction of a legislation, making reprogramming of a handset and IMEI duplication, an offence. They pointed out that there may be more than one handset with the same IMEI number, because of reprogramming of IMEI numbers on lost/stolen handsets. Reprogramming software is easily available, so without a ‘cleaning-up’ exercise to weed out duplicates, implementing IMEI based blocking will make subscribers unhappy. Many operators want reprogramming of IMEI to be made illegal.

– Blocking Requirements: All stakeholders feel that the blocking must only be done after the customer submits a copy of a Police FIR, along with copies of identification documents and invoice of the phone with the IMEI number.

– Unblocking Requirements: All agree that there should be a provision to unblock handsets, if the customer reports that he’s found a lost handset, after furnishing his ID proof and a written undertaking.

Other Solutions:

Although these are mainly restricted to smart phones, there are apps or software that can help track down a phone, remotely wipe all its data and lock it, rendering it unusable. Remember, that there are more chances of critical private data being stored in a smartphone.

– Apple’s Find My iPhone: This feature lets iPhone users locate their iPhone on a map, remotely display an alert message, wipe all data and set a pass-code to lock it, via a web page or an app.

– McAfee WaveSecure: Similar to Find My iPhone, the application, available for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and iPhone, lets users track their lost/stolen phones, remotely wipe data and lock it up if a new SIM card is inserted.