The Government is to disable at least 70,000 mobile phones in a nationwide crackdown on counterfeit handsets.
The Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority (TRA) yesterday set a deadline of January 1 for customers to stop using illegal phones or face termination of services.
The TRA says it has already detected counterfeit devices with the help of the telecommunications operators du and Etisalat.
The companies are able to determine whether a phone's serial number complies with the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) standard. Every time a phone is operated, its serial number is automatically sent to the network allowing operators to determine whether it is genuine.
Etisalat and du will send SMS messages to owners of these mobile phones in the coming weeks telling them they have illicit devices that could even pose risks to their health - emitting unmonitored radiation and with batteries that may be prone to leakage.
"Our ultimate goal is to eliminate fake mobile devices in the UAE and educate the general public as well as retailers on the risks involved with their use," said Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, the director general of the TRA. "Issues of counterfeiting and piracy have a tremendous impact on the economy and intellectual property rights, but fake mobile phones are also low-quality devices that have been manufactured without the proper tests and checks."
UAE law prohibits the use, sale, purchase, distribution and promotion of counterfeit handsets.
A customer can find out whether his phone is counterfeit by dialling *#06# on the handset to get the serial or IMEI number, and then text that number to 8877 - on the du or Etisalat networks.
The networks then send an SMS notification to the phone, telling customers whether their devices are legitimate.
Mobile manufacturers, such as the BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and Samsung, were told two years ago that they would have to place the authority's stamps of approval on the boxes of phones and inside the handsets by the end of January.
The TRA has also started to inspect shops suspected of selling counterfeit handsets.
"We have done massive work so far, but as you know, this is not an easy job to finish within one or two days, or a month, or two months or three months," said Mr Al Ghanim.
Etisalat and du may offer discounted packages to people who stop using counterfeit phones, although details have not yet been disclosed.
"There are many options to support the customer, give him special prices and special discounts," said Nasser Bin Obood, the acting chief executive for Etisalat.
Osman Sultan, the chief executive of du, also said his company would offer customers cheaper packages.
Other countries where large numbers of counterfeit handsets are in circulation have launched similar crackdowns, according to Abdulla Hassayen, chairman of the Brand Owners' Protection Group and the anti-counterfeiting manager for Nokia Middle East.
"There is a problem with fake devices in the UAE, we don't have a specific number because as you know it is an underground business," he said. "We're hoping that with this implementation of the TRA enforcement that we'll get a clear idea about the market of fake products."
But use of counterfeit phones in the Emirates is only part of the problem, according to Mr Hassayen.
"Not only is the UAE a market for fake products but it is a destination for re-export - so import and export to other countries in the region, and even to Europe or Africa," he said.