Manufacturers’ lobby proposes team to weed out illegal cellphones

Manufacturers’ lobby proposes team to weed out illegal cellphones

New Delhi: Alarmed by the increasing incidence of smuggled phones into the country and their potential use by terrorists, a business lobby representing cellphone handset makers has proposed setting up an independent team to monitor unique identity numbers on each handset.

The Indian Cellular Association, or ICA, an industry body representing GSM (global system for mobile communications) phone makers here in the country, has proposed setting up what it calls the Mobile Registration and Authentication Board, or MRAB, to control the abuse of international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers.

Terrorists involved in last fortnight’s Mumbai terror attacks, according to media reports quoting intelligence officials, communicated among themselves and with their handlers on mobile phones while holed up in the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels.

ICA’s proposal calls for the participation of ministries and telecom industry bodies, including the department of telecommunications.

“We have proposed to keep a record of IMEI numbers that would make sure that any handset with fake or duplicate IMEI numbers would get knocked off," said Pankaj Mohindroo, president of ICA.

IMEI number is a 15-17 digit number unique to every GSM or satellite phone handset and is used to identify a device on a cellphone network. It is usually found printed on the phone underneath the battery.

Phones using code division multiple access (CDMA) technology have a equipment serial number, issued by the Telecommunications Industry Association, a US industry body also involved in standards development.

ICA has said the proposed board will have control of the abuse and influx of illegal IMEI numbers by controlling entry of mobile phones into the country at the land and sea ports as well as through tie-ups with the global lobbies GSM Association and Telecommunications Industry Association, who will make available their database of identity numbers.

Not only are there no validation checks being done by the Indian government at ports of entry, ICA said, IMEI numbers are being cloned or even cancelled numbers are showing up on the network, making it very hard for cellphone operators and security authorities to track mobile phones.

An expert said stolen or phones made without original IMEI numbers pose a security threat. “In a study we did about 10 months back, we found that around a million phones go missing every month nationwide," said Girish Trivedi, deputy director of the telecom practice for South Asia at consultancy Frost and Sullivan.

“There is no national repository of IMEI numbers and there is no one accountable in case a cancelled number is found being used. There is the need for a common database to track abuse of IMEI numbers that make every device unique," said Trivedi.