New chip to reduce mobile theft

Japan’s leading mobile phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, has developed an innovative new technology to reduce mobile theft. The new system pairs a phone with a chip that the user keeps on their person. If the phone becomes separated from the chip – as with a theft – the phone automatically becomes disabled.

Nov 2, 2006
By David Howell
John Boyd

Japan’s leading mobile phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, has developed an innovative new technology to reduce mobile theft. The new system pairs a phone with a chip that the user keeps on their person. If the phone becomes separated from the chip – as with a theft – the phone automatically becomes disabled.

The new P9031 handset is being manufactured by Panasonic and will be sold with a wireless ID card. This can be easily carried in the purse or wallet. “Once the signal between the two objects stops transmitting, because they are too far apart, the telephone blocks itself,” a Panasonic spokesman said.

Critics have been quick to point out that it could be possible to clone the ID card that is paired with the phone and then use it normally, but this would require substantial technical expertise. “It would be out of the realm of your average pickpocket,” Ollie Whitehouse, a UK-based wireless security expert with US Company Symantec told New Scientist magazine.

“But it would certainly appeal as a challenge to the technical community.”

NTT DoCoMo have also announced a service that would enable users who have lost their phones to locate them via GPS. Mobile phone theft is actually very low in Japan with few users even bothering to lock their phones when not in use. Whether UK based mobile phone operators would adopt similar schemes remains to be seen.

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