In recent months there have been a number articles in the media regarding the blocking of lost or stolen mobile phones on mobile networks in New Zealand. Due to the inability of some media organisations these days to string together a tech story that makes any sense, it’s probably left some people a little confused as to what is and isn’t actually happening in the marketplace right now. Contrary to some of these articles, a register of lost or stolen handsets is maintained in New Zealand, and this data is shared between Vodafone and Telecom. The bigger story however is that the black market for stolen phones in NZ continues to exist, in part because 2degrees doesn’t currently block lost or stolen handsets.
Every mobile device has a unique serial number known as an the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. Vodafone have maintained a list of lost or stolen IMEI numbers for many years, and it only took a phone call to them and your phone would be blocked from their network by loading the IMEI in an Equipment Identify Register (EIR) within the mobile network, meaning the phone was useless to anybody who may have acquired your handset since it could no longer be used on their network. Because Telecom’s CDMA network used handsets that weren’t compatible with Vodafone’s GSM and WCDMA networks, there was no need to share data as phones couldn’t be moved between networks. With the launch of Telecom’s XT network which uses the same WCDMA 3G technology as Vodafone, the ability to move handsets between the two networks became a reality. When 2degrees launched their network, initially only the GSM component, followed later by their WCDMA 3G network, it finally became possible to use a single handset across NZ’s three mobile networks - assuming of course that the handset was compatible with the different frequency bands used.
Both Vodafone and Telecom presently share IMEI data and maintain a list of handsets that have been reported lost or stolen. Telecom may also block phones where the purchaser has defaulted on a term contract with a subsidised handset. Sharing this data means this means if your phone is reported lost or stolen to either network it will be blocked on both networks. 2degrees aren’t part of this, and handsets that are blocked from the Vodafone and Telecom networks can continue to be used on the 2degrees network. One of the consequences of this is a growing black market for phones being sold on sites such as Trade Me that are marked as working only on 2degrees, which one assumes is because the seller of the device is fully aware that the handset they are selling has been blocked on both the Vodafone and Telecom networks. A number of threads have popped up on Geekzone in recent months where buyers have purchased phones from Trade Me, and upon trying a Vodafone or Telecom SIM card finding that their new phone is barred from the network. Clearly Trade Me can’t be held liable for property sold on their site, but in my opinion Trade Me should have clearly taken some responsibility for blocking auctions for goods that very clearly indicate something fishy was going on.
In the past week talks have taken place between Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees with the goal of 2degrees implementing an EIR on it’s network, and sharing IMEI data with Telecom and Vodafone. This will be a giant leap forward, and will go a long way to reducing the black market for mobile phones here in New Zealand. The big issue 2degrees will face joining such a program now however is that they’re going to end up blocking active handsets on their network, and dealing with angry customers wanting to know why their handset suddenly doesn’t work isn’t going to be easy. The only recourse most people will presumably have will be to file a complaint with the Police, as I doubt 2degrees will want to replace those handsets with new ones for free! The move by 2degrees is a positive one, and it’s a shame it’s taken them so long to implement an EIR, something that’s been pretty much commonplace on mobile networks throughout the world for the last ten or so years.
Other related posts:
Skinny takes FUD to new heights with Vodafone GSM network shutdown billboards.
Are Air New Zealand about to dump their Premium Economy Spaceseat?
Will the iPhone 6 work in New Zealand?
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