Rogers, Bell raise spectre of theft in device unlocking submissions to CRTC

Canadian carriers have said that device unlocking is going smoothly


Canada’s two largest telecom service providers have raised concerns about device theft in recent submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Rogers and Bell, Canada’s largest and second-largest telecom service providers in terms of subscribers respectively, used their submissions to a CRTC public proceeding on device unlocking in Canada launched by a PIAC inquiry to express worries that the December 2017 unlocking fee ban has led to an increase in fraudulent activity.

Rogers referenced lost UPS handset shipments, while Bell spoke to “multiple instances of armed robberies” at retail locations.

“Unlocked, new devices untied to a service contract are easily sellable in both the grey and black markets across North America and internationally,” reads an excerpt from Bell’s submission to the CRTC.

“It appears that illegal activity may have shifted from the U.S. to Canada as some U.S. carriers have begun to lock devices.”

Rogers said that it had witnessed a 100 percent increase in the volume of missing devices in the six-month period since the CRTC’s unlocking fee ban came into effect on December 1st, 2017.

“Such claims are received when a customer orders a handset directly through Rogers and the package is never received at the intended delivery destination,” reads an excerpt from Rogers’ CRTC submission.

“We believe this trend is attributed to the availability of unlocked devices from service providers which make these handsets more desirable to fraudsters and thieves.”

Bell added that it plans on returning to its previous practice of stocking certain devices locked and only unlocking them during the device activation process.

Rogers didn’t publicly disclose how many devices the carrier has unlocked since the unlocking fee ban came into force.

Instead, the carrier submitted its device unlock numbers to the CRTC under a condition of confidentiality afforded under the Telecommunications Act.

Bell, however, disclosed that a total of 257,840 devices had been unlocked by the carrier, as well as its Virgin Mobile postpaid, Bell MTS and Solo Mobile prepaid and postpaid subsidiaries.

Rogers’ and Bell’s statements were in response to a request posed by the CRTC for carriers to expand on any trends they’ve noticed as a result of the unlocking fee ban.

Device unlocking requests on the decline

While Bell and Rogers were two of the country’s major carriers to address concerns about device theft as a result of the unlocking fee ban, most carriers — including Bell and Rogers — seem to suggest that the process is going smoothly.

Canada’s third-largest national carrier Telus even stated in its CRTC submission that there has been a gradual reduction in device unlocking requests.

“It is likely that this average decline will continue as devices are now being sold unlocked as of December 1st, 2017,” said Telus.

Nova Scotia-based regional carrier Eastlink echoed Telus’s assessment, stating that the carrier is receiving fewer device unlock requests.

“This is expected as devices are now being sold unlocked and/or with an unlock code, but there are still a number of historical devices owned by our customers that require unlocking as they travel and/or upgrade their devices” said Eastlink, in its CRTC submission.

“As devices are now sold unlocked, it is likely the volume of requests will continue to decline over time.”

It’s worth noting that Canada’s fourth-largest carrier Freedom Mobile, which also didn’t publicly disclose its device unlocking numbers, acknowledged the fact that the carrier isn’t able to immediately unlock all devices upon request.

However, Freedom clarified that such issues are often a result of a device manufacturer not providing an unlock code, a device manufacturer not being able to provide an unlock code, or because a customer has provided the carrier with an incorrect International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI).

Freedom said that Haier is one manufacturer that has been unable to provide unlocking codes.

“However, this is rare and represents a very small percentage of requests,” said Freedom.

Now that carriers have submitted device unlocking numbers and opinions to the CRTC, the public has until August 9th, 2018 to submit interventions in the second phase of this proceeding.

MobileSyrup has reached out to the PIAC for comment. This story will be updated with a response.

Update 01/08/2018 4:58pm ET: Story updated with additional reporting.