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International Mobile Equipment Identity

  Jun 08, 2020

International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI)

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is asking handset makers who are manufacturing in India to provide the unique identification numbers of their devices to the government within the next two months, citing security imperatives.

Govt has asked device makers to share IMEI numbers within two months. The move is likely to help curb increasing mobile crimes in the country.

What is an IMEI?

  • The International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI is a number, usually unique, to identify 3GPP and iDEN mobile phones, as well as some satellite phones. 
  • It is usually found printed inside the battery compartment of the phone, but can also be displayed on-screen on most phones by entering *#06# on the dialpad, or alongside other system information in the settings menu on smartphone operating systems.
  • GSM networks use the IMEI number to identify valid devices, and can stop a stolen phone from accessing the network. For example, if a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can have their network provider use the IMEI number to blacklist the phone. This renders the phone useless on that network and sometimes other networks, even if the thief changes the phone's subscriber identity module (SIM).
  • Devices without SIM card slot usually don't have the IMEI code. However, the IMEI only identifies the device and has no particular relationship to the subscriber. 
  • The phone identifies the subscriber by transmitting the International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, which it stores on a SIM card that can, in theory, be transferred to any handset. However, the network's ability to know a subscriber's current, individual device enables many network and security features.

Way forward

  • Registration of IMEI numbers with the government at the time of manufacturing will help curb increasing mobile crimes in India.
  • This move has no impact on privacy or its enjoyment if registration is done at the time of manufacturing. 
  • It will further enable the government to protect innocent citizens and prevent massive losses users (mobile fraud victims) are incurring on a monthly basis in India.


  • Typically, the IMEI will help DoT trace the handset from which the call originated in case of any suspicious activity and block them, and in tracking lost phones. 
  • When a phone is lost or stolen, DoT will block the handset. But in case a new SIM is inserted and a call is made, the telecom service provider will flag off the details of the new caller to the authorities, who in turn, will trace the new caller.

The DoT has been working on this Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR), a database of IMEIs, for the past couple of years but now wants all handset players to submit the numbers as well.

What is Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)?

A Central Equipment Identity Register is a database of the IMEI numbers of blacklisted handsets. If a device's ESN or IMEI number is listed on a CEIR, it is not supposed to work on member service providers' networks; only paying members may access the database.

A common usage of a CEIR is with stolen mobile devices. Once a user reports to their operator about the theft, the mobile devices' IMEI number should be entered into the CEIR, supposedly making the device unusable in any network (although this does not always work). A key reason this sometimes does not work, is that while many operators from many countries contribute IMEIs to the CEIR, each also having a unique profile that determines which operators' blocks will be included on the CEIR updates received by each operator.