The Australian mobile phone industry says figures show that its Lost & Stolen program, which has resulted in a 25% fall in phone blocking over the past 7 years, has acted as a deterrent to thieves.
When a customer reports a mobile lost or stolen to their phone company it is blocked using the handset’s unique 15-digit electronic serial number, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.
This means that the handset is blocked across all networks in Australia and cannot be used. When blocked it prevents misuse of the handset and protects the owner from illegal call costs. It also acts as a strong deterrent to thieves.
Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) figures show that between 2004-2011 the net blocking activity has fallen by nearly 25% from 169,600 mobile handset blocks to 127,750.
The net blocking figures are derived from subtracting unblocking requests (if the handset is subsequently found and returned to its legal owner) from blocking requests.
AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, said the industry interpreted the figures as evidence that thieves were getting the clear message that stealing mobiles is a waste of time because they would be blocked and made inoperable in Australia.
“The significant fall in net blocks over the past seven years is against the background of an 80% increase in the number mobile services in operation of this period,” he said.
The mobile services in operation have increased by an average of nearly two million a year over the past seven years, rising from 16.2 million subscribers in Australia in 2004 (mobile penetration rate of 81.3%) to 29.28 million mobile services in operation in 2011 (mobile penetration rate of 129%).
Mr Althaus said the very strong rise in mobile phone use during this period made the 25% reduction in net blocking all the more remarkable. As a percentage of mobile services in use, IMEI blocking applies to about half of one per cent of total mobiles in use.
Mr Althaus said it was expected there might have been a spike in mobile phone blocking requests following the strong uptake of smartphones, however, the figures showed a 0.5% decrease in net EMEI blocks in 2011 compared to 2010.
There has been international interest in Australia’s Lost & Stolen program following a spate of violent street robberies in San Francisco. Thieves have bashed people on the street and taken their smartphones.
Mr Althaus said: “AMTA is happy to talk about our program and how it works in Australia, however, we are not advocating this program as a potential solution in other countries, such as the United States, because they have different markets and industry structures.”
The mobile phone industry’s inter-carrier IMEI blocking program cost $15 million to set-up and was launched in September 2003. It was designed to address mobile phone theft in Australia and the industry co-operated with law enforcement agencies.
A key outcome of the IMEI blocking program has been a reduction in the number of handsets stolen through warehouse break-ins and store theft.
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