India Bans Import of Mobile Phones Without Identity Codes

The Indian government has banned the import of mobile phones without an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, and has ordered operators to block calls from phones without an IMEI from next month..

The IMEI is a unique code that identifies a mobile device on a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network, and is usually programmed into the phone by the manufacturer.

A notification earlier this week from the Indian government's Directorate General of Foreign Trade has prohibited the import of mobile handsets that do not have an IMEI, or have an IMEI consisting entirely of zeros.

A large number of mobile phones that are sold in India are either spurious or unbranded, often sold at low prices without bills or warranty. Terrorists have been found to use phones without IMEI, as they prevent identification, according to security agencies.

The spurious phones also represent a significant loss of revenue to mobile phone vendors who are targeting the country's booming mobile phone market.

The Indian government told the country's parliament in December that the Department of Telecommunications had directed cellular mobile service providers to make provisions for the authentication of mobile handsets with an IMEI number for GSM networks and Electronic Serial Number (ESN) for CDMA (code -division multiple access) networks.

In a letter to service providers in April, the Ministry of Communications & IT recognized that some of the users of phones without IMEI or zeros in place of the IMEI, were "genuine innocent subscribers". The ministry approved in that letter a proposal by the service providers for a Genuine IMEI Implant (GII) program that programs genuine IMEI on mobile handsets.

The GII program is being offered by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in association with Mobile Standard Alliance of India.

The last date for the software implants will be the end of this month. On that date the EIR (Equipment Identity Register) used by the operators will have to reject all calls made from a phone without an IMEI or with all zeros in place of a genuine IMEI, according to the letter from the ministry, a copy of which has been posted on the COAI web site.

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