Sunday, April 26, 2009

India: GSM handsets with 15-digit or no IMEI are being disabled for reasons of national security, they mostly come from China

[Times of India] Imagine a scenario where a group of Anti-Terrorist-Squad (ATS) members of the state police come knocking at your door for using
a cell phone!

You will only have your touch screen Chinese O-phone' to blame for this. It is then that you realise that your distinct phone identification number the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) which the police use to track criminals, is the same as some 1,000 Chinese phones already in use one of which a terrorist might be using.

Worse, most of these Chinese phones do not have IMEI or have just 15-digit IMEI numbers instead of 16 digits. This is the case for both GSM and CDMA phones that are readily avaliable in the grey market.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) had issued directions to all mobile service providers, in the interest of national security, that by April 15, 2009 they should incorporate the Equipment Identity Register (EIR) software to automatically block services to customers who use handsets without IMEI numbers or have number as 00000...'. But except for BSNL in Gujarat, other mobile phone service providers are still in the process of implementing the system.

Once implemented, the EIR does not allow you to make a call from a Chinese cell phone or to a Chinese phone with questionable IMEI number.

"The EIR cannot block calls to or from phones with similar IMEI numbers as for that all service providers should share their IMEI database. But what was more dangerous were phones with no IMEI numbers there were thousands of GSM phones with such discrepancy and most of them were prepaid customers, whose identification documents were also questionable," said a senior Gujarat circle officer of BSNL.

"There are few software companies that make EIR and they charge a fortune. Besides, most of the low end prepaid scheme users use Chinese phones, which may again translate to some revenue loss for service providers," he added.

Senior telecom officers pointed out that IMEI numbers are only alloted to mobile phone manufacturing companies by British Approvals Board for Telecommunications (BABT).

"Chinese phones, especially the non-branded ones, copy a single IMEI number on to at least 1,000 phones. These IMEI serial numbers may belong to a branded handset. We have had cases like these in Mumbai and Hyderabad circles," added the BSNL officer.

Chinese phone could ring trouble

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