Qualcomm takes aim at counterfeit and illegal devices with new platform

Qualcomm took the wraps off a new platform the company said stands as an expansion and improvement to the U.S. wireless industry’s attempts to prevent the sale of stolen phones.

Qualcomm said its new Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) platform “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.”

Added Qualcomm: “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.”

Thus, the platform is not only intended for the U.S. market but also global markets. Indeed, Qualcomm said its DIRBS platform launched in Pakistan in May and will soon expand to Indonesia and a number of other countries.

In responses to questions from FierceWireless, a Qualcomm representative explained DIRBS offers more features and functions than the CTIA’s stolen phone database, released to the public in 2017.

“The DIRBS system provides a much broader functionality than simply checking for a stolen device reported to GSMA which the CTIA Stolen Phone Checker website uses as the underlying source of information. The DIRBS Platform is intended to be used for registering legal devices and identifying and classifying devices that may not only be illegal but also might be not certified for use in a given country, or a locally stolen device that is not always reported to GSMA, or illegally imported or smuggled, or may have other issues associated with it such as invalid or duplicate IMEIs, or providing exceptions to already existing fraudulent devices in the country,” Qualcomm wrote. “By leveraging the device registration functionality of the DIRBS platform, it could be used in any country to ensure counterfeit, non-certified or illegal devices are not sold through any retail channel including online sales. In the U.S. market, there are devices that are being sold through online channels, including the major online retailers, that may not be certified or approved for sale or use in the country and DIRBS can help with that if implemented in collaboration with the right stakeholders in the ecosystem.”

Similarly , the CTIA explained that its Stolen Phone Checker is primarily for the U.S. marketplace, which is mainly driven by postpaid users. Most postpaid phones are registered and validated by the wireless provider, including through certification programs, before being connected to wireless networks. Thus, CTIA said Qualcomm’s DIRBS would act as a compliment to its U.S.-focused Stolen Phone Checker.

Importantly, CTIA said that since it launched the checker in May of last year, fully 842,408 devices have been checked through the site.

The U.S. wireless industry, largely through trade groups such as GSMA and CTIA, has been working for years to counter phone theft. For example, in 2013 CTIA announced the launch of a global, multi-carrier, common database for LTE smartphones. And in 2015, CTIA said a group of wireless carriers and smartphone makers had implemented a set of voluntary principles aimed at stopping smartphone theft. The announcement came just as a California law requiring smartphones sold in the state to have a "kill switch" went into effect.

But Qualcomm’s new DIRBS platform expands beyond stolen phones to cover counterfeit, noncertified or illegal devices that might be sold through retailers such as Amazon.

Article updated Sept. 18 with additional information from CTIA.