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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 10:33 GMT
Mobile firms act after security pressure
A man on his mobile phone
Mobile phone crime hit 700,000 people last year
The two mobile phone networks who had refused to adopt technology which enables stolen handsets to be cut off, have agreed to put the measures in place.

The move by BT Cellnet and Vodafone comes after the Home Office urged them to help reduce the growing number of street robberies and thefts involving mobiles.

Orange, One to One and Virgin already use the system, which allows phones to be immobilised when customers pass on the identity number of their handset.

BT Cellnet will use a new computer system to block calls from stolen handsets, while Vodafone is considering its own anti-theft technology.

The firms' new policy follows a government pledge to give mobile phone thieves tough jail sentences and a Home Office report showing more than 700,000 handsets were stolen last year.


Announcing the new security measures the firms also confirmed plans to work with retailers and rivals to share a database of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) serial numbers.

We have consistently argued that introducing a system of phone-barring across all networks is one of the best ways to help cut crime

Sir Richard Branson
It is hoped the move will stop criminals using Sim cards from different networks to keep stolen handsets working.

Both firms also supported an industry-wide security system to cover current handsets and third generation phones.

Mike Caldwell of Vodafone told the BBC: "We're introducing some new computer systems that will make it impossible to use a stolen handset on the network.

"What we have done in the past is tended to bar the Sim card - the individual customer's identity.

"What we will be doing in the future is barring that and barring the handset, so we will be able to know when a stolen phone is used."

The system being developed by BT Cellnet includes an upgrade which could track the first calls made from a stolen handset on its network.

That could guide police straight to the criminals who stole it, the company said.

Street robberies

Virgin Mobile, a joint venture between Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and One2One, said it was "genuinely pleased" rivals had responded to pressure.

Sir Richard said: "We have consistently argued that introducing a system of phone-barring across all networks is one of the best ways to help cut crime."

Last month the Home Office named Vodafone and BT Cellnet as the two networks which had failed to agree measures they believed could help cut street robberies and thefts involving phones.

In a recent report it said 330,000 mobile phone thefts were reported to police last year, but the actual rate was likely to be at least twice as high.

Schoolchildren - often targeted by other youths - were at least five times more likely to be targeted by mobile phone thieves than adults, with 48% of victims aged under 18.

MMO2 Chief Executive Peter Erskine
"We take this very seriously"
Mike Caldwell, Vodafone
"It should be a criminal offence to change the identity of a phone"
See also:

30 Jan 02 | UK
Under phone lock and key
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