The persistent problem of stolen and counterfeit mobile devices and smartphones is affecting the telecommunications authorities, operators and end-users globally.
Smartphones are one of the most trafficked goods in the electronics counterfeit market. According to a study by OECD in 2017, approximately 19% of mobile handsets sold in the world are counterfeits – and the number has been growing in recent years.
Smartphone theft statistics vary country by country. In the United States, 2.1 million people have had phones stolen in 2014, according to a nationally representative survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Counterfeit handsets cause money losses for IPR owners and the distributors of legitimate devices, and are a loss of tax income for governments. Counterfeit phones can cause high radiation and contain harmful levels of dangerous elements such as lead. As they are made of low-quality elements and not subject to safety standards, these fake phones can easily explode; have inoperable speakers, low-resolution cameras and slow or old processors that result in a poor network connection.
Equipment Identity Register (EIR) Prevents Mobile Device Fraud
Equipment Identity Register (EIR) is a globally standardized, hierarchical system for identifying these stolen and counterfeit devices on a mobile network – for automatically blacklisting them; and for prohibiting them to connect to the network. The operators and national telecommunications authorities who belong to the global EIR system, and the GSMA as the host of the Central-EIR, can share information about stolen devices worldwide.
The system consists of three components: EIR, Shared-EIR and Central-EIR, which are explained as the following.
What is the Equipment Identity Register (EIR)?
The EIR system is at the lowest level on the global EIR hierarchy, and is a standard telecom network element that allows or forbids a device to attach to the network. It prevents stolen, cloned and illegitimate mobile devices from being used on a mobile network.
EIR checks the legitimacy of mobile devices based the International Mobile Equipment Identity code (IMEI). Each EIR system that is located on a mobile network, reports blacklisted IMEI codes to a Shared-EIR (SEIR). EIR systems can also download a list of stolen mobile devices from the Shared-EIR to share information across networks.
When a mobile device tries to attach to the network, a request is sent to the EIR with the device’s unique IMEI code. Depending on the IMEI status stored in the EIR (blacklisted, whitelisted or grey-listed), the network will accept or reject the device. The behaviour of the network on grey-list status is either to be added on the blacklist or the whitelist, depending on the configuration.
What is the EIR Blacklist?
Blackllisted equipment is a equipment that has been reported stolen and has no permission to access a network (barred). The black and grey lists are stored on a database for persistency.
What is the EIR Whitelist?
The whitelist contains all the equipment identities that are permitted access to a network and services.
What is the EIR Grey-list?
The operator can use the grey-list to block access for certain models or versions of software – for example, for situations when a certain equipment model has proven to act erroneously.
What are Central-EIR and Shared-EIR?
Shared-EIR is a shared repository of IMEI statuses that operators can use to get blacklisted IMEI lists from other operators in the same country. The Shared-EIR system is usually maintained by the national telecommunications authority, or by a similar organization in each country.
All Shared-EIR systems should be connected to the global Central-EIR (CEIR) system that is maintained by the GSMA for downloading lists of blacklisted devices, and for uploading new blacklisted devices on to the Central-EIR.
The SEIR is connected to the EIR of all mobile operators of the country – provided that these operators are registered to the GSMA.
The Shared-EIR system should be registered on the GSMA CEIR as a national database, and have the functionality of automatically connecting to the IMEI Database system, to share up-to-date lists of blacklisted devices and to receive lists of blacklisted devices from the GSMA’s CEIR.
The SEIR enables national communications authorities to minimize problems that are caused by stolen, cloned, fraudulent and smuggled mobile handsets and mobile devices with illegitimate identification codes (IMEI). With SEIR, the national communications regulators can minimize economic losses, damages to health and the environment and reduce crime, which are the main problems that these stolen and illegitimate handsets cause.
What are the Problems in the Standard EIR Device Blocking?
Based on the standard device blocking use case, the EIR system prohibits blacklisted devices, i.e. devices reported stolen or devices with an illegitimate IMEI code from connecting to a network (blocking), without a notice or warning.
Shutting off counterfeit handsets without warning has turned out to be problematic in many cases. It has made many people angry as the sudden loss of connectivity makes life difficult, stops business and even puts people in danger. Many people bought their devices in good faith and had paid a small fortune for them, and the impromptu cut-off doesn’t feel fair to them.
Sometimes it is almost impossible for the average consumer to identify a counterfeit mobile phone, especially if the design is convincing. Spotting a fake mobile phone often requires a level of technical knowledge that most people do not have. It can also be equally difficult to know if a handset that is bought at the second-hand market is stolen or not.
Three-step Process for a Smarter Way to Manage Stolen and Counterfeit Devices with EIR
Device management technology can provide operators with several ways to enhance the standard EIR device blocking use cases, and to handle device shutdowns. This in turn respects the customer relationship, and has the potential to turn the situation into a fruitful customer engagement, but still enables the efficient handling of a stolen and counterfeit mobile device.
Inform the Owners of Illegitimate Devices Proactively
As a mobile user might not know if his or her device is stolen or a counterfeit, the Automatic Device Detection technology, as an inherent part of the EIR system, can automatically provide that information to operators in real-time, based on the IMEI code. So, why not to use this information smartly?
Instead of an impromptu device shut-off, the blacklisted IMEI information can be used to inform the subscribers that they are using an illegitimate device; update them about the potential risks of carrying it; advise them about the device shutdown process; and provide instructions for handling the situation.
For this, customer engagement solutions can be harnessed alongside the EIR system to trigger automated information campaigns upon the detection of a blacklisted device.
Upsell a Legitimate Replacement Device
Operators can turn each detected stolen and counterfeit mobile device into an upsell opportunity and automatically send the affected subscribers a voucher for a discounted handset. These messages can be automated, and sent in advance of the shutdown to give customers enough time to visit the operator’s store or web shop to buy a legitimate handset.
Graceful Device Shutdown
Device management technology allows for a graceful device shutdown, so as not to put customers in a dangerous position. All stolen and counterfeit handsets would first lose mobile data connectivity, and after a certain time period, then the voice and SMS services would be switched off, leaving only the emergency number in use.
The three-step process for managing stolen and counterfeit devices will deliver a better service experience for the affected customers when such an unpleasant situation is handled, and lays the foundation for a more fruitful customer relationship in the future.
By enhancing the standard EIR system with real-time device detection and automated and personalized customer engagement capabilities, then each owner of a stolen or counterfeit device can be handled differently as they appear on a network, and this can avoid mass-shutdowns, which can ruin customer satisfaction and damage the operator’s brand!
How can Operators and Regulators Deploy Smarter EIR Solutions?
Learn more about the network components required for the smarter handling of stolen and counterfeit devices: