Security Director News: T-Mobile Starts From the Ground Up To Protect 2,100 Stores

October 19, 2010 | Coverage

Security Director News

'We Really Went From Zero to What We Have Today In About Three Years'

DALLAS—It was only three years ago that T-Mobile, the seventh largest cellular provider in the world, began its loss prevention efforts. And the company didn’t exactly start by taking baby steps. “When you look at traditional loss prevention in a retail environment, typically they start those programs in 10, maybe 15 stores. T-Mobile started at 1,500,” said Joe Davis, director of retail loss prevention for T-Mobile USA during an interview with Security Director News at the ASIS International Seminar & Exhibits here on Oct. 13. “We really went from zero to what we have today in about three years.”

But the company did start out small in terms of the number of loss prevention employees it dedicated to the program. “At the time when we initiated the program we started with six people,” he said, “so we had to find technology that would allow us to leverage as many locations as possible with as little impact on people’s time.” In those three years, T-Mobile has increased its loss prevention staff to 45 employees, but its reliance on technology remains high.

During the beginning stages of developing a loss prevention program, Davis said it was critical to first assess what the company had in place, what technology it was deploying and what opportunities there were in improve those systems. “In our initial evaluations we found that while we had physical security controls, cameras and video recorders in stores, some of our capabilities were very limited,” Davis said. The loss prevention team spent a considerable amount of time looking at different vendors and piloting several solutions to protect its stores.

T-Mobile decided to go with a video surveillance solution by 3VR and to date has deployed about 1,000 3VR video recorders, covering about half of its stores, said Davis. One of the most critical features of the system was its ability to use T-Mobile’s existing equipment. “We didn’t mind writing a check for a new box, but it would’ve been hard to convince everyone that we needed a new box and new cameras,” he said. The company was able to utilize existing analog cameras but also installed megapixel IP cameras at store entrances in order to use 3VR’s facial capture features.

Using face capture features, and other video analytic capabilities, is part of the company’s long-term loss prevention strategy, said Davis. “Our business in cellular is more akin to banking than it is to traditional retail, so we have a lot of external fraud that happens in our business versus internal theft that happens in traditional retail,” he said. The company uses facial capture to log people entering its stores and the technology also enables the company to search across multiple locations. “That’s a valuable feature that our field investigators use on a regular basis,” he said.

But where legacy equipment doesn’t exist, the company is using all megapixel cameras. Davis said that the use of megapixel often brings about concerns regarding storage, but by working with its partners, both 3VR and Arecont, the data is compressed so that in an average retail space with eight to ten cameras, T-Moble only requires a terabyte of storage to save two months worth of data. 

And Davis said the retailer has only begun using the functionalities of this system. “It was almost like we bought a Ferrari when we were 15 and knew it was sitting in the driveway and we’re just waiting to get in the car and go,” he said. “We’re still like that. We’re just getting comfortable with some of the capabilities of the box that we think we will hit high speeds in the next few years.”

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