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Mobile world

(© Tracy Scott-Murray /
DO you remember the very first time you came across or used a mobile phone? Malaysia was actually the first country in Southeast Asia to introduce a cellular mobile network in 1985. The first sets I remember seeing were the Atur (Automatic Telephone Using Radio) 450 introduced by Telekom.

They were bulky and you had to carry them around as you would a briefcase. The battery was large and the antenna stuck out, but these sets had great coverage. Quite a number of business people took to carrying one around in their cars. Some vehicle manufacturers even took to installing Atur phones in some premium models to appeal to the elite.

Then, of course, came the ART 900 service introduced by Celcom in 1989. The analogue phones for this service were far more portable than the Atur sets, but the range of coverage was considerably less. But its introduction helped to spread the newly emerging technology’s popularity in Malaysia, especially in urban centres.


The sets in the early 1990s were shaped like a brick — remember the Motorola DynaTAC? — and weighed about as much, but they were a definite improvement over the Atur sets.

As more brands such as Nokia, Ericsson and Siemens made their presence felt, the size of the phones began to shrink. The features, too, thankfully, began to grow as more cellular companies came into the market.

Consumers were introduced to goodies such as voicemail, Caller ID, call logs and alarm functions, for a start. Then came text messaging, ringtones, games, music players, camera phones, and smartphones. Now many phone models are advertised without ever mentioning the primary reason for their existence — making and receiving calls.

The mobile phone has really changed in the past 20 years, and our lifestyles along with it. Watch this cool video on the evolution of the mobile phone.



While all these innovations are fine and good, little attention is being given to securing the data in your phones. Considering the number of mobile phones being stolen or sold second-hand every year, you’d think this is a cause for concern.

Phones don’t just store your contacts; depending on the amount of memory you have on board, all your text messages — sent and received — are potentially laid bare to thieves.

But there are many people out there who trade in their phones for a newer model without cleaning out all the data stored in it first. So, unless the dealer makes sure to wipe out everything, the next person who buys the phone ends up with a few “extras” that weren’t in the bargain.

For instance, you may have removed the SIM card before trading in your phone, but did you remember to wipe out the contact list stored within the phone’s internal memory?

You have 1 new message
(© linusb4 /

In one particularly tasteless episode which happened here a year or two ago, the person who stole a mobile phone from a senior citizen sent a message to those in his contact list. The prankster pretended to be a family member who announced the sad news of the man’s demise. The prank was only discovered when condolence calls started pouring in to the man’s home.

But this is not the worst thing that can happen.

Crippling loss

If you use your phone to take photos and videos, for instance, then this information is now in someone else’s hands too. The unscrupulous Joe could upload the photos on to the internet. And if there’s anything of a personal nature in the phone, you could very well end up being blackmailed.

If you are an entrepreneur with a smartphone, the loss of data could be crippling. Everything from your emails, faxes, business documents and spreadsheets could wind up in the hands of a competitor.

Which such potential for loss, it’s surprising to me that many people don’t take the basic precautions to protect the data in their mobile phones. Most don’t bother to activate either the SIM lock or the phone lock in their mobiles.

You should also enable the PIN in your SIM card and record the 15-digit IMEI (international mobile equipment identification) number of your GSM mobile phone handset. If your phone is stolen, informing the telco about the IMEI number can help them to lock out the phone, making it useless to the thieves.

The IMEI number can be found in the back of your phone under the battery, or you can press *#06#.

(© Sanjna Gjenero /
Very few people still bother to back up their contact list, either by subscribing to a phone backup service provided by their respective telcos, or by downloading the entire thing into their computers.

The latter is not hard to do — most new phones provide software to do it easily using either a data cable or Bluetooth connection. There’s also free software available on the internet to do the same thing, but check whether it will work with your particular model first.

Tracking your past

You can also download your text messages into your computer for storage using free software such as MyPhoneExplorer. Try it and see. It’s easy and provides a rather illuminating glimpse into your life when you go through past messages. You can track everything from the dramatic moments such as a breakup in a relationship, down to the mundane “let’s meet for dinner at Chilli’s” type of message.

These are simple steps to keep your data private. But it would help to know if our telcos are also taking the lead to ensure that all outgoing and incoming calls and text messages are encrypted. This will prevent cases of hackers tapping into our data and calls using fairly simple methods that — though illegal — are easily accessible on the web.

N Shashi Kala once lost a mobile phone after being caught in a raging river in Ulu Yam. It was a baby blue Alcatel that ran on AA batteries and personified cuteness. She doesn’t miss it.

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3 Responses to “Mobile world”

  1. siewlyn says:

    Malaysians don’t believe in backing up any data – whether it’s on computer or even in their phone. Just look at the number of times you get a message on Facebook from a friend complaining they have lost their phone contacts because their 2K Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson has been stolen. They will never learn. So better for manufacturers and service providers to offer automatic backup options.

  2. KW Mak says:

    Data Lore! You are such a Trekkie la, Shashi! :-D

  3. Alex Lam says:

    @siewlyn Indeed you are right… Malaysians DO NOT believe in backing up (at least a majority of them don’t). Thankfully I’m one of the few who insists on having LOTS of backups. Though active hard drives have not failed me yet, I’m not going to think about it only AFTER it happens.

    I wrote an article about how I back up my data here –

    Perhaps someone might find it useful.

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