Spurious Mobile Phones in India to Be Disconnected Tuesday

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Mobile phones in India without proper International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers will have to be disconnected from operators' networks from Tuesday, in line with an Indian government order.

However, not many users should be affected, analysts said.

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.

The Indian government has cited security reasons to block these phones from networks, saying that they have been used by terrorists to plan and execute attacks.

An order dated Sept. 3 from India's Ministry of Communications & IT orders the disconnection of phones that do not have IMEI numbers, have a sequence of zeroes in place of the IMEI number, or "non-genuine" numbers that are not IMEI numbers.

To ensure that users who bought these phones inadvertently are not inconvenienced, the government approved earlier this year a proposal from service providers for a Genuine IMEI Implant (GII) plan that programs genuine IMEI on mobile handsets.

There isn't exact data available on the proliferation of the spurious phones, because a large number of these phones are smuggled and sold in India at basement prices through the unorganized sector, said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner.

Most of the spurious phones, usually of Chinese origin, arrived in the Indian market only in the last year, as the vendors started focusing on markets outside China like India and South America, he added.

The number of phone users that will be affected by the disconnection may not be very high, according to Gupta. India is a very brand conscious market, and the spurious phones may account for less than 5 percent of the phones sold in India in the last year, he said. Most of the sales were in urban markets, and most users are likely to have taken advantage of the IMEI implants program to get genuine IMEIs, he added.

The government has also taken measures to control the import of spurious phones into the country, Gupta said.

The government order, however, has a glaring loophole, said the president of a trade body that represents mobile handset makers. It does not provide for blocking calls from phones that use "clone" IMEIs, said Pankaj Mohindroo, national president of the Indian Cellular Association (ICA). Such clone phones are also a security threat, the group said.

Clone IMEIs are those that have been issued to registered handset vendors, but have been copied on to other phones by makers of spurious phones. The disconnection of some spurious phones is a step in the right direction, but the ICA will continue to press for the blocking of clone phones as well, Mohindroo said.

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