x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Du tracking down fake handsets

A global register of genuine mobile phone serial numbers is being used to track down and block fake phones.

DUBAI // A global register of genuine mobile phone serial numbers is being used to track down and block fake phones, the telecom operator Du said yesterday.

The international database lists all the unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, and those that do not match are blocked.

"Du uses an Equipment Identity Register [EIR] solution which downloads the IMEI database from the GSM Association, an association that maintains a unique system known as the IMEI Database," the operator said in a statement. "With this system, any handset within Du network which does not match … will be blocked."

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) imposed the ban on fake handsets on Sunday.

The blocking of the illegal codes is an effort to protect the intellectual property rights of genuine manufacturers, and on health and safety grounds as fake phone batteries are prone to leak or even explode, the TRA said.

Du said last week that a campaign to raise awareness before the ban was a success, with the number of reported fake IMEI numbers falling from 57,338 to 17,797. The telecom provider said it had begun a gradual blockage of fake devices.

The ban will have little or no effect on the "thriving" black market for fake phones in Dubai, according to one trader. "It's big business in Dubai, especially in places like Deira and Bur Dubai," she said. "The big attraction is the fact they are so cheap and people buying them tend to be on very low incomes."

She said demand had increased in recent months due to interest from other countries.

"Most of these phones are from China and they pass through Dubai before going to places like Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Matthew Reed, an analyst with Informa Telecom and Media in Dubai, said a large number of the pirated or counterfeit phones are made in China.

"Often - but not always - these are intended to pass off as or at least resemble, devices made by established branded manufacturers," he said. "They are known as shan zhai ji, or bandit phones."

These phones do not typically undergo the same level of testing as genuine handsets and may comprise up to a fifth of the handsets in use in China.

The IMEI system was originally developed by the GSM Association to tackle handset theft by giving each device a unique identity number. These numbers are then distributed to GSM agents and recognised manufacturers.

But Mr Reed said the ban might not be as effective as hoped. He said: "We believe that some shan zhai manufacturers give their handsets IMEI numbers that are copied from branded handsets, and this represents a potential problem when creating a blacklist, as a shan zhai device might appear to have an authentic IMEI number."

The TRA, Etisalat and GSM World did not respond to requests for comment.

nhanif@thenational.ae