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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Anti-MOPHTI: Who hosts the CEIR?

As the strategies for combating mobile phone theft heightens in the country, REMMY NWEKE in this report asks, who would host the database, otherwise known as the Centralised Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)?

RETURNING from Victoria Island one Monday afternoon, Mr. Asup Ukwo, was exhausted when he boarded a bus to Oshodi-Lagos from Obalende on the way to his office located at Isolo Industrial Estate.

Before reaching the bus terminus at Oshodi, he catched on some sleep and in the process a ‘smart’ co-passenger capitalized on that when his Siemens C65 fell off his trouser pocket and the phone was gone.

By the time he woke up at Oshodi-Oke and every one was also disembarking, he realized his handset was missing.

Narrating his ordeal to our correspondent recently, Mr. Ukwo said that was the fifth phone he had lost in three months.

Additionally in an open office located at Mainland, a mobile phone mysteriously developed legs recently when one of the staff left his phone while charging to buy a top-up voucher across the road.

By the time he returned in less than 10 minutes later, his Sagem MyX3 phone was nowhere to be found.

The other day at the Computer Village Ikeja-Lagos, a little drama ensued when telecom a subscriber who had his Panasonic mobile phone stolen was directed to search for it at the market, due to its peculiarity.

His visit paid off as he was able to discover his phone among several others and his checks also confirmed it was his stolen Panasonic, the previous day.

Promptly, the customer invited the Police, who took both the seller and phone into custody, pending when the customer was certified the true owner of the mobile phone.

Also, Mr. Chuks was at the Computer Village recently to buy a digital camera. As he was about to pay, he received a call from his wife, afterwards, he left his phone on the counter before a sales girl and the camera. On his return to that spot, about four steps apart, his Samsung flip mobile phone was gone till date.

To this end, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), based on inundated complaints regarding high incidence of theft of mobile handsets nationwide, first invited memorandum from stakeholders.

Following this estimated 11 submissions were received from Newstream Technologies Limited, National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers (NATCOMS), Hummingbird Limited, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), NetVisa, XIUS, Akin-Ruby Ventures Limited, Cornerstone Cardinal Links, GSM Subscribers and Product Distributors Association, Engr. O.O. Oyediran and L-Obyo Obyo Nelson.

According to the Head, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Dave Imoko, in order to address the issue motivated the commission to organize a one-day consultation with stakeholders on “National Scheme to Curtail the Theft of Mobile phones” at the MUSON Centre, Onikan-Lagos.

“In order to galvanise ideas that would assist the commission come up with a scheme that would provide an effective, efficient and feasible means of curtailing the menace both within and around Africa,” NCC spokesman said.

For the management of Newstream Technologies, who had earlier proposed the Anti-Mobile Phone Theft Initiative (Anti-MOPHTI), just as it opted to host the database, also known as the Centralized Equipment Identity Register (CEIR).

This, the firm said, would be accessible to the four Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) operators in the country.

“So that stolen phones could now be barred on all networks by reference to the phone’s unique identifying code, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number,” experts at the firm said.

They also explained that CEIR could only be set up consequent upon an agreement by operators to activate same on their networks.

Thus, Newstream, intends to assume responsible for managing and maintaining the central database while charging subscribers an annual registration fee per handset.

NATCOMS position
In view of the foregoing, NATCOMS in support of Newstream position suggested that operators, especially the GSM operators inform subscribers to register their phone, which will make barring easier as soon as decision is made on CEIR host.

The group led by Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo also said that subscribers have a duty here, which is to record their IMEI, phone numbers respectively and keep same at safe places apart from their phone.

“Your IMEI number can be accessed by keying *#06# into most phones or by looking behind the battery of your phone,” Ogunbanjo said as he then, charged subscribers to report theft of their phones to respective network operators as promptly so as to enable them disable such phones.

NATCOMS also canvassed for an insurance coverage to be bundled with anti-MOPHTI, saying that handset insurance protection policy has been in existence, but has suffered unattractive to most insurers due to insincerity of users when handsets are lost, stolen or damaged.

Pointing out that inability to block lost phones on all networks provides further despairs insurance protection and called for partnership with reputable insurance firm for proper adherence and implementation of the insurance protection policy aspect.

In UK and Kenya
Investigations revealed that having an independent firm to host the database may not be the way out, citing the instances of how it is managed in the United Kingdom and Kenya; where initiatives such as Anti-MOPHTI were being offered free of charge by operators.

Investigations, however, revealed that since all subscribers may not be disposed to have their data stored by another firm apart from their operators and at the same time pay for the hosting, thus CEIR in the hands of independent operator may be catastrophe.

In addition, operators were concerned with the issues of data security on the hands of the third party, which most of them described as ‘sensitive database’.

In addition, NATCOMS said that with anti-MOPHTI, subscribers will be required to provide make and type of phone, model and serial number, purchase receipt, network provider culminating in the anti-MOPHTI registration.

Some subscribers at the meeting, advocated that NCC hosts the CEIR as a neutral ground, from where all operators would be linked.

The charter
Definitely there are lessons to be learnt from the recently Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum (MICAF), an umbrella of all the mobile operators in the UK endorsed a charter, which took effect on July this year.

Details of the charter stipulates that each signatory would support IMEI numbers of handsets reported stolen to the network and being blocked on all UK networks via the UK Shared Equipment Identity Register (UKSEIR) within a time frame agreed with the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) and home office.

MICAF was also charged to establish a specialist group to market this charter and develop programme of activity to raise awareness of mobile phone theft, ability to block stolen phones across networks and provide advice to consumers on mobile phone theft among others

Way forward:
There is need to connect the Nigerian CEIR to the likes of UKCEIR located in Dublin, even as the Nigerian CEIR would now act as a hub for tracking stolen phones in the West African sub region.

NCC on the other hand has to educate the consumers on the need to buy only officially type approved handsets.

For an expert in preservation of Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) contents, Mr. Adedayo Akintobi, Nigerian telecom users should always go for cheap and low-end phone sets, otherwise described as ‘Pure water phones.’

He said this way, users would make their phone sets unattractive for mobile phone thieves.
“So that every one can at least buy one and nobody would be able to steal or buy stolen phones,” he declared and as such they should be cautious and avoid trendy looking phones.

Therefore, “buy pure water phones, because that is the self insurance,” he advised.

Whilst the nation awaits NCC eventual position to reduce the lost of stolen phone in the country and subregion, it is noteworthy that the Nigeria Police needs to be in the mainstream of the technologies available, methodologies and training of its men for anti-MOPHTI to be a success.

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