OnQ Blog

With DIRBS, Qualcomm Technologies is helping governments and OEMs combat the counterfeit, illegal, and stolen device market

The multi-billion-dollar stolen and counterfeit phone business has widespread repercussions for consumers, governments, and the technology industry alike. According to a European Union Intellectual Property Office study published in 2017, 184 million counterfeit smartphones were sold globally in 2015 alone. What’s more, it’s estimated that these devices equate to a 45.3B Euro loss to genuine manufacturers each year. Despite the prevalence of this issue, governments have struggled to find effective solutions.

Because Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) is dedicated to enabling our mobile customers and partners to compete, innovate, and grow globally, QTI developed a software platform that leverages each device’s unique identifier to help mobile industry participants and governments alike combat reported stolen and counterfeit phones, which otherwise can bypass laws and certification requirements. The platform — called the Device Identification, Registration, and Blocking System (DIRBS) baselines existing devices currently active in a country and checks newly activated devices. Specifically, DIRBS looks up in-country databases maintained by governments, to confirm that devices aren't stolen, have been properly imported, have passed required certifications, and have properly allocated globally unique identifiers. Regulators can then take action to mitigate the number of devices that do not meet these standards from being registered with cellular networks.

Read on to learn more about how DIRBS is enabling the fight against the illegal mobile phone market.

The problem

The mobile industry and governments are faced with two distinct yet related problems — counterfeit devices that infringe on genuine device manufacturers’ intellectual property rights and stolen devices that are often reprogrammed with fraudulent identifiers. Yet, they are struggling to find solutions to address both issues.

Mobile phone theft is prevalent in many countries because it is easy to resell stolen devices to consumers who currently have no method of checking the legality of the device.

Manufacturers of counterfeit devices may use invalid or duplicate International Mobile Equipment Identities (IMEIs), violating the 3GPP standard ETSI TS 122.016 v15.0.0’s requirement that each device have a GSMA-assigned unique, and unchanged IMEI.

Because counterfeit devices do not obtain required certifications and may not go through customs, they can cause a multitude of issues, ranging from environmental and privacy concerns to unfair competition, network quality issues, and tax and royalty evasion.

If counterfeit devices do not go through customs, governments suffer a loss in revenue from duties and sales tax. Devices with duplicate IMEIs pose security concerns as their true origin cannot be traced, making them an attractive tool for the criminals who do not want to be tracked. Stolen devices are often reprogrammed with invalid or duplicate IMEIs making it difficult, if not impossible, to block these devices.

Consumers who buy counterfeit devices may experience poor performance and reliability. Even worse, they risk exposure to hazardous components as well as malware and spyware designed to harm, including (among other things) manipulating messages and installing apps to making payments and stealing personal information. Unfortunately, it is easy for consumers to unknowingly purchase illegal devices online.

For OEMs, the influx of illegal products creates an unfair playing field. Bypassing all requirements and using inferior components, counterfeit devices have significant cost advantages while unlawfully using brands that took years of significant investment to build. Illegal mobile phones are also a significant issue for operators, who are faced with low-quality devices clogging their networks, reducing their network’s performance.

Real results with DIRBS

The DIRBS platform first launched in Pakistan in May 2018. QTI and its affiliates and contractors are now working to deploy the DIRBS platform in Indonesia and a number of other countries who have expressed an interest in deploying DIRBS.

QTI believes that its DIRBS platform is an important and effective tool to help governments fight against the illegal phone market. Therefore, QTI has contributed its DIRBS platform software and related documentation to the open-source community. By doing so, QTI wants to ensure that telecommunications regulators around the world have ready access to a comprehensive technical solution to assist in their efforts to combat the illegal device market. The DIRBS platform software and related documentation are now available on the open-source software website Github.

Implementing a platform such as DIRBS, however, is just one step in addressing this broad issue. For DIRBS to be effective, it requires cooperation across the ecosystem. A comprehensive enforcement policy and adequate legislation are essential to stemming the problem. Operators must also cooperate by blocking blacklisted devices from their networks. Consumer education is also a significant factor in preventing the purchase of fraudulent devices — those who understand why registering their phones is important, know how to identify the IMEI number, and how to check if it’s valid are less likely to purchase a counterfeit or stolen device. When it comes to verifying the IMEI numbers, consumers should do so at the point of sale before purchasing. The DIRBS platform will also include a mobile app and an online verification system that governments can offer to consumers to validate a device by checking its IMEI.

With DIRBS, QTI is providing governments, consumers, operators, and manufacturers with a comprehensive, open-source solution to curb the illegal mobile phone market. This is just one of the initiatives QTI and its affiliates are working on behind the scenes — often unseen and unknown — to help the overall mobile ecosystem.

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