Can our cell phone cos get any more greedy?

GOVINDA K. writes: I lost my mobile telephone three days ago. And thereby hangs a tale.

I lost my phone on August 9. Within the next hour, I called my number. The finder was intelligent enough to switch it off. After trying for 12 more hours, I approached my network operator and get a duplicate SIM card.

I went to the Spice Hotspot on Chamaraja Double road. The lady at the desk asked me with a smile what help I needed. I told her that I had lost my mobile and needed a duplicate SIM. After going through my driving license and verifying the information on the internet database, she offered me a duplicate and charged me Rs 112 for it.

After the Dr. Mohammed Haneef episode, I thought that I should not take any chance and should register a complaint. So I went on the internet to know more about how to register a complaint. In the process, I learnt about the existence of something called the IMEI number.

And suddenly, I lost all sympathy for the telecom networks and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

I read that the IMEI is a unique number encrypted inside each GSM mobile. I read that once we report the stolen mobile’s IMEI number with the police and other authorities, they are forwarded to the GSM association. I also read that they, in turn, forward this number to various operators across the world.

Net-net, the operators here and elsewhere would black list such an IMEI number from being used and would not allow any SIM card to function from that particular mobile.

What was shocking for me was that such a facility is available in countries like the United States, Belgium, Australia, UK, etc, but not one of the operators from India has yet subscribed to this facility. Why? Because Indian telecom operators feel that “it is not economical in a country like India to adopt such facility.”

All this while, I had read that India was a great place for various operators to invest due to the presence of a large number of youth, professionals, and the growing urbanisation of the rural areas. Our boast is that the Indian mobile telephone industry is growing at a scorching rate.

If that is true, and if they are reaping such huge profits, why can’t they spend a small part for security measures that will help the subscriber—and possibly the nation?

Our mobile operators have money to invest on nonsense ads, but not to ensure security to their customers! And what on earth is the TRAI doing? It is the authority which controls all the operators. Or at least is supposed to. But the evidence on hand suggests that it may have forgotten the man and woman at the other end of the line.

The telecom industry is growing rapidly without putting adequate security measures in place. And it may prove to be too late and too dangerous to put the paste back in the tube later. When the Bombay blasts took place last year, the telecom operators were asked to verify their customer information. Till then, most operators simply gave SIM cards to all and sundry, many times, without any records. They were all in a state of hurry to verify.

Another security loophole in Indian mobile networks is that “ciphering” is not supported by many operators. My phone used to flash up a message saying “ciphering is not supported by your operator. Your call can be tapped.” This was all about the problem from our Indian mobile networks.

When I went today to register a complaint, the police asked me for an affidavit from a notary. A friend had already cautioned me that they may ask for an affidavit but had also helpfully added that if I offered Rs 50, they would accept the complaint as it is. I was really shocked by the way the police talk to the public, whose taxes underwrite their salaries.

First of all, the whole police department should get a training on how to communicate. I remembered Kiran Bedi‘s words, “the police system at present is the same old British Raj type of system. The Supreme Court has been ordering for reforming the police system. But the bureaucrats at the top will not allow that to happen.”

Still, I want to give complaint to police in any case. And hence I will have to approach a notary today. At last I would quote my friend said: “smashaanakke hOda heNa, kaLedu hOda mobile, eraDoo vaapaas baralla!” (the dead body which goes to graveyard, mobile phone which is lost, both do not come back)

Related links:
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/ew/2006/10/23/stories/2006102300170400.htm

Does this really work?