another misAdventure

"We are all of us living in the shadow of Manhattan."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ask the Telecom Guy

There was news at work today. Not bad news -- at least I didn't think so -- though people fear change and uncertainty. It's pretty much exactly what I expected and had told people last week. I can't talk about it, though. It may turn out to be good news for me, at least I hope I can turn it to such. More as it develops and I can talk about it (though the details wind up pretty technical).

Other than that, not much new here. Kathy and Ryan should be home tomorrow, then Kalen and Matt on Saturday.

After the break, some mobile phone discussion based on an e-mail my mom forwarded. Some information, and some dispelling of misinformation.

OK, in the following is the e-mail my mom sent, forwarding an e-mail that sounds fairly urban-legend-y. Some of the stuff in it is true, or partly true. A lot of it is misinterpretation, or making mountains out of molehills. Interspersed are my comments on this. Since this is my field, I try to set the record straighter. This is mostly the response I sent to my mom, which I thought made a reasonable blog post, though I've also edited it just a bit more.
*CELL PHONE INFORMATION / share with family, friends & print for future use..!!! What to do when your cell phone gets lost...**

Here is something worth knowing if you have a mobile phone .... Have you ever wondered why phone companies don't seem interested in trying to prevent the theft of mobile phones? If you have ever lost, or had one stolen, and if you are on a plan, you still have to pay the plan approximately up to 24 months, and you have to buy another handset and enter into another contract. This is more revenue for the phone company.

If you have a contract, you have to honor the contract. So, you either pay for a service you can't use (if you don't have a phone), or you get a new phone. You do NOT have to enter into another contract. The phone is cheaper if you do enter another contract though, so you have to weigh which way is cheaper. The companies drastically discount phones to get you to sign a contract. You don't HAVE to sign a long term contract to get a cell phone if you pay full price for the phone.

If you lose an expensive item, you have to pay for it again. Duh! Here's another clue: If you buy something on credit and then it is lost or stolen, you still have to pay for it.
*There is a simple way of making lost or stolen mobiles useless to thieves and The phone companies know about it, but keep it quiet.*

I don't think the companies keep it secret. You'd just have to ask the right question, or a get person who knows what they're talking about. This means *not* the standard twenty-year-old clerk at the cellular phone store, and certainly not some random guy at Radio Shack or Best Buy.
*To check your mobile phone's serial number, key in the following on your phone: star-hash-zero-six-hash * # 0 6 # and a fifteen digit code will appear on the screen. This is unique to your handset. Write it down and keep it safe.*

The code would be specific to the type of phone you have. Most phones have some sort of engineering mode or debug mode. I've used it in the field to track problems. That code above won't work on my phone (I didn't try it, but I know what the debug mode code is for mine). In most case you can find out what cell you're connected to, and how strong that signal it, but the number won't make sense unless you know about the specific company's assignment scheme or site map. We had maps of sites when I was in Phoenix and St.Louis with the cell site numbers so we could tell what cell you should be seeing in any given site, and what other cells were close.

By the way, I found out the debug mode code for my phone by Googling for it.

There are two different numbers identifying the phone: the IMEI and the IMSI. The IMEI is the serial number of the phone. The IMSI is the number on the SIM card. IMSI is 15 digits, I don't remember the length of IMEI.
*Should your mobile phone get stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset, so even if the thief changes the sim card, your phone will be totally useless. You probably won't get your phone back, but at least you know that whoever stole it can't use/sell it either. If everybody did this, there would be no point in stealing mobile phones. You may want to send this to as many people with mobiles as possible.*

I don't know if a company will or can easily block on IMEI. They can and will block the IMSI, which is specific to the SIM card. If the company can block on IMEI, there's probably a way the bad guys could reprogram the EPROM containing the IMEI, thus making the phone workable again. And I think a lot of stolen cell phones get used for a very short time (hours at best) and then discarded, as they get the value out of calls made rather than the phone itself.

Everyone should want to report a stolen phone ASAP anyway to avoid paying for the calls. That succeeds once they block the IMSI. Most operating companies should be able to look up the IMSI and IMEI of your phone anyway once you give them the phone number, so you don't really need to record them. The company will probably ask a couple other security questions to prove you're the account owner. Oh, and the IMEI and IMSI are probably both recorded on the service contract you got with the phone.
*No charge for directory assistance. Phone companies are charging us $1.00 or more for 411 - information calls when they don't have to. *

Well, they don't HAVE to charge for making any other phone call either. But if no one pays, the service stops existing. They're providing a service, so they charge for it. I think they charge too much for information, but no one actually has to use it. They get away with charging as much as they do because a lot of people who call 411 are a captive audience, they have no other good way to get the information. Also, because it's used less and less, there's not as much volume to offset the per-usage price.
*When you need to use the 411/information option, simply dial 1-800-FREE-411 or 1-800-373-3411 without incurring a charge. This is information people don't mind receiving - Pass it on. Works on your home phones and cell phones and it’s FREE!*

I wonder what their business model is, then. They somehow have to pay for the incoming 800 line and manage the database (and pay salaries to the operator if there's a live person). I'll have to try calling it some time and see if it is advertising supported.

In a lot of cases you can find phone numbers on Google as well. Or switchboard.com, etc. I haven't called information in years, but then I usually only have to call numbers I've been given.

3 Comments:

  • 1-800-FREE-411 is advertising supported. Snopes has a page on it: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/free411.asp

    I don't pay any attention to those types of emails. Even if the information is basically true, they completely overexaggerate the facts for scare tactics.

    By Anonymous Kathy, at 12/13/2006 10:25 AM  

  • Here's an interesting news release by the company, that explains some more about their business: http://www.free411.com/about/newsitem21

    By Anonymous Kathy, at 12/13/2006 10:28 AM  

  • Yay! I don't have to call up the Casa and ask them to Google stuff for me anymore! Though I probably will anyway. It's much easier than talking to a machine.

    And I'm pretty sure it'd be cheaper to break a 24 month contract than pay for it. But buying a new phone is a much better idea.

    By Anonymous narf, at 12/13/2006 2:12 PM  

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