Mobile operators Vodafone and BT Cellnet have finally buckled under government pressure and promised to deploy handset immobilisation technology in the growing fight against mobile phone theft.
The two companies, accouting for 24 million subscribers in the UK, said today that they would use international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) technology to identify stolen handsets and will share information with other networks.
Orange, Virgin and One2One have deployed IMEI numbers for several years, which prevents a stolen handset from being used even if a new SIM card is inserted. But Vodafone and mmO2 had resisted until now.
Vodafone issued a six-point initiative to combat mobile phone theft, saying that it took "mobile phone theft and fraud very seriously."
In a statement, Vodafone's chief operating officer, Gavin Darby, said the company would be aiming to improve awareness and propose legislative changes to the government.
Home Office minister John Denham, who has been vocal on the issue of mobile phone theft, welcomed the companies' plans.
"This will make phones less attractive for criminals to steal since they will be much more difficult to use," he said.
Over 700,000 mobile phones were stolen last year, half a million of those being taken from children between the ages of 11 and 15, according to government statistics.
Attacks have also become increasingly violent, with one girl in London recently shot in the head for her phone.
The increasing number of attacks has lead Lord Chief Justice Woolf to declare that mobile phone thieves could face up to five years imprisonment.
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