The extension phone business may be returning from a lull.

Recent advertising by California Grapevine Communications states, “Don’t let the carriers violate your rights. The cellular monopolies and their lobbyists are controlling the entire communications industry for their profit at your expense.”

If you ship two phones and a copy of your cellular bill to Laguna Hills, Calif.-based CGC, they will alter the electronic serial number on the second phone so it emulates the ESN of the first phone.

The second phone becomes an extension of the first phone, and the customer avoids paying a monthly service charge for the second phone. The service costs about $175.

Cellular carriers aggressively fought this business last year, calling it fraud and cloning, and won numerous court cases that put quite a few individuals out of business.

AirTouch Communications Inc. and AT&T Wireless Services Inc., in particular, were not shy about flexing their legal muscle against these small organizations.

“Our goal was to alert the community involved in this that we’d take severe measures,” said AirTouch spokeswoman Melissa May.

In a Santa Ana, Calif., trial, the court ruled against the emulation company and ordered it to turn over its business records to AirTouch, including names, addresses and telephone number of customers for whom the company had created extension phones.

AirTouch is not involved in any suits at this time, possibly indicating the business had slowed since last year’s activity.

Carriers argued in court that federal law requires each cellular phone to have a unique ESN and the emulation scheme breaks that rule. Carriers also said they have installed expensive fraud detection software in their networks that can detect two phones operating with the same ESN, and shut off the service.

Consequently, contracts between the emulator and cellular customer now contain disclaimers that include some of the information emulators learned from the carriers.

“I understand that … roaming while two phones are powered on may activate the carrier’s anti-fraud software and they may terminate my service.”

And “I certify that I am not employed by or acting on behalf of any cellular carrier or government agency with the intent to entrap in any manner … CGC.”

And in shipping information, CGC states, “For security reasons, we do not place test calls.”

CGC states that referral and dealer programs are available. Service may not be compatible with authenticated or digital services, CGC said.

One lawsuit which the carrier did not win was a federal jury trial in Kentucky, in which the emulator was charged with fraud and trafficking in altered telecommunications equipment.

The emulator’s attorney argued that his client had permission from the owner of the phone to emulate the ESN onto the other phone. The attorney stressed to the Kentucky jury that the cellular customer owned the phone, not the operator. The jury found the emulator innocent.

Carriers also have complained to authorities that emulation companies are encouraging their customers to cheat them, and helping as well. CGC indicates it is running advertisements in magazines such as Car & Driver, Boating, Electronics Now, Nuts & Volts, Motortrend, Omni, Flying and Road & Track.


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