A national data base containing the unique identity of all mobile phones , known as the IMEI number – to block usage of handsets that are stolen or lost is set to become a reality, after leading telcos extended their support to this initiative.
Sector regulator Trai, which recently proposed this initiative, will now put in place the guidelines and mechanisms to create this database, and will also decide the mode of funding for this project.
This national initiative will enable mobile service providers to block all services to those handsets that are stolen, in an attempt to prevent their misuse.
Telcos say this will discourage theft, but add it will not a 100% foolproof solution as resellers of stolen handsets can ‘illegally avail technologies that will enable them to reprogram or clone IMEI numbers’. International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is a unique 14-digit code used to identify valid devices.
“Blocking of IMEI is an effective solution to discourage mobile theft in the country as it will prevent the usage of stolen handset which is re-sold in the market to some extent. However, it alone cannot serve the purpose as the handsets can be easily reprogrammed and sold in the market,” the Cellular Operators Association of India , the body representing GSM operators, said in their response to Trai.
This industry body has suggested that this central registry be maintained either by the government, or the regulator or by done by an authorised third party, and it be linked to the GSMA database having the white/grey/black list of all the handsets available in the market to reduce the efforts, risk of error and cost of updating the database separately by each service provider.
This would also ensure that a global database of stolen devices is maintained. This also allows devices stolen in India to be blocked in other countries thereby maximising the value of blacklisting as it is generally recognised that stolen devices travel across national borders, the COAI added.
Ericsson , the world’s largest telecoms gear maker, which also runs the mobile networks of Bharti Airtel and other telcos, has asked the regulator to adopt laws similar to that of the UK and make re-programming of IMEI numbers a criminal offence. This position has been supported by several mobile phone operators.