Telco answers call from God, censors mobile comms

New SIM card technology will give parents, companies and religious leaders greater power to censor mobile phone usage

New SIM card technology launched this week will give parents, companies and even religious leaders greater power to censor mobile phone usage.

The technology relies on a four to six digit second personal identification number, PIN2, that can be used to unlock the "fixed dialling" function on mobile phones. Administrators may nominate up to 50 fixed dialling numbers that the phone is able to call. Outbound calls to any numbers not in the fixed dialling list are restricted.

The service was launched by Australian telecommunications reseller, Telcoinabox, and will be offered by its 70 service providers and franchises.

While Telcoinabox's managing director, Damian Kay, acknowledges that fixed dialling technology infringes on the personal freedom of users, he asserts that it may, in some cases, be a necessary evil.

"The SIM card is not for everyone," he said, "only for people who want to restrict their caller list. For example, a business may want to cap their sales reps calls to stop them from running up a bill the size of Texas. Or a religious group may want to prevent members from making 'inappropriate' calls."

Kay suggests that restricting call access may be the solution to the behemoth phone bill debts that teenagers too often accrue. He expects Telcoinabox service providers to target the new PIN2-enabled SIM cards towards parents and school associations, with the child market in mind.

"There are so many stories around about horrific phone bills from kids," he said. "This gives the parents control and helps control spend."

PIN2 technology has been around for a fair while, Kay said, but as the cost of implementing the technology far outweighs the benefit for major telecommunications carriers, there has been no incentive for these carriers to offer the service.

The service is more commercially viable for niche market MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), he explained, such as Telcoinabox's service providers, who are essentially mobile service resellers with their own brands. The service only operates on the Telstra network.

Telcoinabox was prompted to offer fixed dialling services upon being approached by a "conservative and reclusive" religious group who could not be named.

"We were approached by a large global organisation, with a specific requirement to restrict the numbers that their members could call," Kay said. "They didn't want to go on a prepaid service because it's quite restrictive with having to get credits and everything, so this provides them with a non-interruptible, post-paid service that still allows them to control spend."

Fixed dialling was found to be the most efficient and easiest way to implement call control restrictions for mobile phone users after more than 12 months of research.

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Liz Tay

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