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In the wake of the theft of 26,000 Samsung mobile phones last weekend, questions have been raised about why networks are less efficient at blocking mobiles stolen from individuals.

Following the theft, the A300 phones (which were marked with Orange or One2One logos) were blocked from connection based on a list of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) codes on the phones, passed on by Samsung. None of the phones, worth an estimated £4.2 million in total, had a SIM card inside them.

In the UK, only Orange and One2One have the capability to blacklist phones by IMEI number, although in the last couple of weeks, both Vodafone and Cellnet have agreed to implement it, after earlier arguing the facility would be too expensive to set up on their older networks.

Consumer groups and the media put pressure on Vodafone and Cellnet to change its stance, and there was a suspicion some operators were dragging their heels, because stolen phones made billable calls, which ended up been paid for by victims of crime.

Anecdotal evidence from Register readers suggests getting stolen phones deactivated can be a frustrating process.

Although blocking based on IMEI number (now all the major operators have accepted it) will make this easier in the UK, this still leaves a ready market for stolen phones pretty much anywhere else in the world.

An initiative to have an international database of stolen phones which all networks would be a part of, suggested years ago, never got off the ground.

Register readers have written to us saying the idea should be picked up again and made mandatory, as a way of curtailing the trade in stolen mobiles. It's also been suggested that is should be made illegal to sell any phone where it is possible to have the IMEI reprogrammed, though its unclear whether this is technically possible.

The stolen Samsung phones were manufactured with software specific to the network which they were to have been used on. Although it is technically possible to reprogram the phones this would be a manual process, a spokesman for the firm told us.

Police have recovered 9,649 of the stolen phones in a raid on an address in West London on Tuesday, leaving two thirds of the phones still missing.

Samsung is offering a £200,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the mobiles and the arrest and successful conviction of the crime's perpetrators. ®

How IMEI blocking works

The GSM standard includes a service called the EIR - Equipment Identity Register.

When a GSM handset registers with a network it transmits its IMEI as part of this process.

The EIR contains three: white, the handset is fine; grey, the handset should be tracked and black, the handset is stolen / should be blocked.

If the IMEI is on the blacklist then at the very least it will never work on a network that has implemented the facility, many handsets will also disable themselves so they would need resetting by a service agent.

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