Friday, February 13, 2009

Legal Struggle: Chinese Phones in India


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Over 25 million Chinese handset users can heave a sigh of relief as the government mulls over a plan to legalize these IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number lacking handsets being used all over India.

Unbranded Chinese handsets, which have become a rage among the lower middle class, have found themselves on the wrong side of the law following reports that these handsets were being used in terrorist activities. The handsets used by terrorists usually do not have IMEI numbers that every GSM cell phone is legally bound to have. The IMEI is an identification number that is unique to each GSM handset -- in most countries a legal prerequisite for handsets to operate.

In India, in recent years, we have seen an explosive growth in the mobile telephony sector. Apart from handsets from mainstream manufacturers, Chinese phones - many of them spurious, with little or no R&D going into their production - started flooding the market. While most Chinese handsets have IMEI numbers, many do not, and it is these handsets that the government has targeted. In a recent directive, the Government had asked all telcom companies to cut off services to all handsets that lack an IMEI number. The last date to implement this directive is January 6, 2009.

However, according to a recent Economic Times report, the Government is planning to extend the deadline until March 31, 2009, as the industry has developed a software that can assign an IMEI number to these phones with the help of a software update. In October, the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) had asked companies to store IMEI numbers in their Equipment Identity Register (EIR) databases. EIR is used to ensure that calls made from a stolen handset having a unique IMEI can be traced and blocked - rendering it useless. The same technology can be used to identify cell phones that lack an IMEI or just have a couple of zeroes for the IMEI number to effectively bar calls from such handsets. Post the diktat, the COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India) is planning to approach the government to seek an extension until the the IMEI assigning software can be added into phones via the update.

The issues under consideration are the large user base for these phones and the fact that the handsets would be rendered useless after implementation of the directive, resulting in a loss to its innocent owners. The COAI is planning a drive to make people aware about the dangers of using a non-IMEI handset and about the software update that is expected to cost Rs. 100 per phone, which is a nominal amount considering it can save a phone from becoming useless.

The telcom companies also claim that they need some more time to install the software since the EIR equipment has to be imported. They have also asked the government to direct the customs authorities to ban the import of such handsets into the country.

What do you think? Do we need to ban Chinese phones completely or do we need to legalize these handsets as they claim to offer great value for money for the budget conscious user?


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Hi, I am Hua, a chinese expat residing in India excited about windows, linux and all things tech

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