Monday, December 22, 2008

Chinese mobiles get new life

OVER 25 million mobile phone users who have Chinese handsets without an international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number won?t have to discard their phones. The industry has jointly developed a software, which when uploaded to these handsets will provide the device with a unique number.

This comes after a government directive asking all telcos to cut off mobile services to handsets that do not have an IMEI number by January 6, 2009. The government is likely to extend the deadline by another three months to March 31 even as some operators have sought that they be given time till July 2009.

IMEI is a unique 15-digit code that comes with every mobile and helps uniquely identify the handset. This number is reflected in the operator?s network whenever a call is made or received from any handset and therefore allows lawful interception of all calls. Mobile operators store these numbers in Equipment Identity Register (EIR) ? so if a handset is stolen, and its owner can provide the IMEI number to his operator to ensure that all calls from this device is barred.

In October the DoT asked telcos to install EIR so that calls without IMEI or with IMEI consisting of all zeroes are not processed. This followed investigations by security agencies looking into the bomb blasts in several Indian cities this year, which revealed that mobile phones used by terrorists did not bear valid IMEI numbers. Industry bodies representing Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI) will formally approach the DoT this week seeking an extension, the representatives in these told ET.

The industry will inform the DoT that customers who use these cheap Chinese handsets without IMEI numbers will not be able to afford a new handset. The industry therefore wants time to educate these customers to go in for a software update to get an unique identity number for their handsets. ?We need time to inform and educate the customer to have this software installed. This software is just being perfected and we will submit this solution to the DoT this week,? explained COAI?s director general TV Ramachandran.

These are genuine citizens who were ignorant about the IMEI number when they bought these handsets we have to give them an alternative. Customers will have to pay a small fee, maybe about Rs 100, for the software, but this is better than throwing away the handset,? he added.

Telcos are also set to tell the DoT that since the EIR equipment has to be imported and also tested extensively before it can be installed on the networks, the process cannot be completed by January 6. ?In some cases, the ordered equipment is yet to arrive, while in other cases, the equipment that has been obtained is being tested,? Mr Ramachandran added.

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