Dec 19, 2008

India - 25m mobiles to be disconnected on January 6

Rashmi Pratap

MUMBAI: Come January 6 and some 25 million mobile phones could get disconnected. Concerned over terrorist attacks in various parts of the country,
the department of telecom (DoT) has asked telecom service providers to disconnect handsets which do not have an international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number.

IMEI number is a unique 15-digit code that can identify a handset to a GSM network. It prevents stolen handsets from being used and allows lawful interception. Every time a call is made, the IMEI number shows on the operators's network. DoT has asked service providers to equip networks with Equipment Identity Register (EIR) to check if calls are being made from genuine handsets.

“Wherever such facility is not available in switches, necessary hardware and software should be put in place within a period of three months of the date of issue of this letter and compliance reported,” it added in a letter to operators on October 6.

According to the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), the use of illegal IMEI handsets is possible because there is no validation of IMEI in mobiles entering India through the sea or air route. Also, there is no central mechanism to prohibit stolen phones from being used. Bulk of the grey market phones are without genuine IMEI numbers. ICA estimates around 25 million such handsets are running on networks in the country.

However, some operators ET spoke to express their inability in meeting the DoT deadline due to technical reasons.

“What the DoT is trying to do is to block all calls with zeroes as IMEI numbers or from blacklisted numbers. That adds extra load on networks. There are so many combinations of non-genuine IMEI numbers that it is extremely difficult to block them. Network upgradation is required to block all such calls and not all of our multiple equipment vendors are equipped to do it,” a senior official at a telco told ET.

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