Monday, August 6, 2012

TRAI to seek Ban on Import of Phones with Fake IMEI Numbers

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is reportedly planning to approach the Commerce and Industry Ministry pertaining to the issue of banning the import of phones with fake IMEI numbers.

An IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number is a unique 15-digit code that is assigned to a handset, and is unique to GSM, WCDMA and iDEN mobile phones as well as some satellite phones. To view the IMEI number of a handset, dial *#06#. It works on most keypads. The IMEI number flashes on the operator's network when a call is made and allows authorities to track users.

Of late, instances of IMEI cloning have been on the rise. Although cloning of IMEI numbers is not commonplace yet in the case of CDMA handsets, instances of cloning in the case of GSM handsets are aplenty. Mobile handsets with cloned IMEI numbers cannot be tracked, making them a deterrent to national security.

Previous instances of terrorist attacks in the country had led the government to ban services on mobile handsets with fake IMEI numbers after November 30, 2009. However, in a test that was conducted in a telecom service area, government officials found over 18,000 handsets using the same IMEI number, much to their horror. In a report that came in the October of 2009, Indian Cellular Association (ICA) President, Pankaj Mohindroo had said that although there aren't any official statistics on the number of handsets without IMEI number, an industry guess was around 25 million.

Earlier reports on the topic too have indicated that inexpensive, unbranded phones without IMEI numbers are used by terrorist outfits to stay off the radar. According to the ICA 30 percent of all phone sales in the country are of the unbranded ones, which are mostly imported from China.

In 2009, we had reported about mobile retailer Geek IT starting a new customer registration portal for handsets with a genuine IMEI number. The store's customers can register the number that is then sent across to COAI and Telco providers. This aids the government ban on handsets such as the fake Chinese models that don't have an IMEI number, and are being used very freely. Some of the handsets that do have the number have proven to be fakes. Another report had highlighted that telecom service providers such as Airtel, Vodafone and BSNL had started deactivating fake IMEI handsets and that the deadline for this activity was set as April 30, 2009. Now, the amount of Chinese fakes that are in the market are estimated to be about 30 million.

Recently, in a bid to discourage the practice of using phones without IMEI numbers, the Department of Telecom asked mobile service operators to not allow calls on such handsets. The ICA also had begun a nationwide campaign to create awareness, and prevent sale and purchase of such devices. An official from the DoT has been quoted by reports, as saying, "The idea is to ask importers of handsets to provide a certificate issued by a GSMA or TIA authorised body for entry of his consignment in the country."

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