India: Stealing a mobile still an offense, but is there any point?

If there is one organization which has high visibility and which looks like it is actually working then it is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). If you are sitting on top of 900 million mobile connections and 15 odd operators you are bound to be busy. Instead of keeping up with the day to day stuff, TRAI has always come up with innovative solutions for persistent problems.

TRAI’s solutions aren’t always popular like its bulk SMS ban, but it has solutions. In order to keep a tab on the mobile phone stealing, TRAI has made a very good recommendation. This solution is both feasible and likeable.

Once a stolen mobile is reported, the mobile phone will be banned from making or receiving any calls based on the IMEI number of the phone. This IMEI number is a unique 15 digit number which is specific to your phone. If there are a billion phones in India, there will be a billion unique IMEI numbers.

TRAI is in a position to propose this solution because of its long-term efforts to remove phones  without IMEI numbers by blocking them.

There is still debate going on how this will be implemented and the telcos are expressing their views. TRAI wants this service to be free and telcos wants this service to be paid. I’m with the telcos. Blocking IMEIs isn’t a herculean task but it isn’t as easy as blocking bulk SMS’s.

Telcos need to set up or enhance their software infrastructure and the burden of losing a mobile phone by whatever circumstances should be rested with the customer. Besides, telcos are already reeling under tremendous pressures and they have every reason to be less than philanthropic.

If TRAI has its way, and it always does, then a stolen mobile can act as an attractive paper weight. If we haven’t gone paperless already, that is.

Blocking the IMEI number isn’t a complete cure though. You still got WiFi access to deal with. With a million smartphones being sold every month in India, the cost of securing a phone has moved beyond just incoming and outgoing calls. Thanks to apps, there is a whole lot of data which is still left on the phone. The onus of securing a smartphone is still on you. And, yes, there are apps for that too.