The shared database will roll out in about six months in the United States, then expand around the globe in about 18 months

The United States' largest wireless carriers have agreed to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a database for stolen cell phones.

The central database aims to reduce cell phone theft by tracking phones that are either lost or stolen using unique IDs for each, then cutting the voice and data services to these phones. This will make it difficult for thieves to sell the devices off to a resale shop because re-using the phone would be challenging.

The nation's four largest carriers, including Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., and T-Mobile USA, have all agreed to come together and build the database. It will be the carriers' jobs to create and maintain the database themselves, which will place individual unique IDs on each cell phone sold, putting these devices in the central database. Together, these four carriers account for 90 percent of U.S. subscribers.

The need for such a database is growing as the mobile gadget market grows with new products like iPhones, iPads and Android-powered devices. In New York alone last year, 81 percent of electronics theft within the first 10 months of 2011 involved cell phones. In Washington D.C., mobile device robberies increased 54 percent from 2007 to 2011.

"New technologies create new risks," said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC. "We wanted to find a way to reduce the value of stolen smartphones."

Cell phones already have a form of stolen-phone databases, but it's problematic because the carriers use different networks. For instance, Verizon and Sprint use the CDMA network, which places an electronic serial number on the devices and they cannot be reactivated once stolen. On the other hand, AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, which places a tiny SIM card in each device. However, these SIM cards can easily be removed, making GSM devices much more lucrative to thieves.

The new central database will make one large stolen phone database for all four carriers, and offer a more substantial system for GSM phones. Carriers will just have to make sure devices used with each of the carriers are compatible with the new database and not just the SIM card.

However, not all devices will make it into the new network. Wi-Fi only tablets, for instance, will not be covered because they are not connected to one of the carriers' networks.

The shared database will roll out in about six months in the United States, then expand around the globe in about 18 months.

Sources: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal

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