India shuts off millions of black market handsets

An estimated 25 million GSM handsets are expected to have gone quiet in India on Tuesday, as legislation requiring phones without an IMEI to be disconnected came into play.

The IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number is a unique identifier typically used to stop stolen phones from accessing a network even if the SIM card is changed. It can also be used by authorities to track certain individuals. This is a particularly relevant point in India, which has a thriving black market for cloned devices typically imported from China.

One of the main drivers behind the introduction of the legislation was the Mumbai terror attacks, which took place in 2008, almost one year ago to the day. The terrorists are understood to have used black market mobile phones to remain in contact.

In October, India banned the import of CDMA-based handsets without a unique serial number, known as the ESN (electronic serial number).

Mobile subscribers will either have to buy a new handset, or take their existing one into a designated centre and have an official IMEI programmed into the device.

With a potential 25 million handsets set to go offline, local press reports that the designated programming centres have been overwhelmed with demand.

India had over 362 million GSM subscribers at the end of September, and just over 89 million CDMA users, according to Informa’s WCIS database.

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