The Indian government has notified the customs department that import of mobile handsets is to be allowed only after declaration of the phones' International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers.
The IMEI number is used by GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks to identify mobile devices. It is used by operators to block a stolen phone from using the network.
In India, a number of mobile phones sold in the country do not have IMEI numbers or have fake IMEI numbers, said Pankaj Mohindroo, national president of the Indian Cellular Association (ICA). "This makes tracing of the phones a critical issue," Mohindroo added.
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. "Very often people don't realize that they are not buying a genuine phone," said Poonam Kaul, director of communications at Nokia India.
For large vendors of mobile phones, these low-cost phones have led to substantial loss of business, according to analysts. Nokia's interest in getting the IMEI numbers in place reflects an overall concern about the security of the nation, rather than business concerns, Kaul said.
The use of mobile phones without proper IMEI numbers is now seen by the government as a threat to the country's security, as terrorists have been found to use mobile phones extensively.
India's Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology, Jyotiraditya Scindia, told the country's parliament on Monday that the Department of Telecommunications had directed cellular mobile service providers to make provisions for authentication of mobile handsets with IMEI number for GSM networks and Electronic Serial Number (ESN) for CDMA (code division multiple access) networks.
The ICA is also working with the Indian authorities on the possibility of having an Indian series of IMEI numbers, which would allow for better control and monitoring, Mohindroo said. A system of this type would not require mobile phones vendors to make the handsets in India, he added.