The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is adopting a new technology to stop use of illegal and counterfeit mobile phone handsets by making SIM cards of all networks unusable on them.
The regulatory body undertook the initiative in 2012 and is planning to put it into effect from 2021.
“The tender for supply and management of National Equipment Identity Register (NEIR) in a bid to stop the use of illegal mobile phones is almost done,” BTRC Chairman Jahurul Haque said.
As many as 118.22 million IMEI numbers were added to a database over the last three years in consultation with phone importers, operators and Bangladeshi mobile manufacturers, reports bdnews24.com quoting the BTRC chief.
Asked how NEIR would be put in effect in case of the phones sold before 2018 and in case all IMEIs are not listed in the database by next year, he said, “An opportunity would be given to register within the specified time the phones which were bought before August 2019.”
On what would happen to phones which were purchased from abroad, the BTRC chief said, “In that case, the purchase receipt and related documents must be preserved. We'll keep provisions to register IMEIs when the NEIR kicks off later."
DISCARDING ILLICIT PHONES
The NEIR is mentioned in the Equipment Identity Register (EIR) published in 2019 for the mobile phone operators of the country.
According to the BTRC, only one particular SIM card can be used on illicit phones at the initial stage of the process. But the users will be forced to dump these phones as no SIM card will work after a certain period of time.
Initially, the telecom watchdog had decided to allow the customers, who had already been using a SIM card in a mobile phone with unregistered IMEI, to continue doing so for six months. After that period, the SIM would not work on any other counterfeit phone.
There is no official data on how many illegal devices are being used around the country but traders put the number at roughly 30 million.
The BTRC looks to bring this plan to life citing prevention of illegal imports, loss of revenue, theft, health risks and ensuring safety. A draft instruction stated the operators would create a database of IMEIs in line with the Licensing Act.
IMEI is a 15-digit number that is unique to mobile phones, the legitimate ones. The number can be found by dialling ‘*06#’ on any phone. Phones with unregistered IMEI numbers can be singled out and blocked from providing cellular services.
Combining operator EIRs with the National EIRs makes it easier for the BTRC to identify unregistered IMEIs on all networks. The entire process will seamlessly synchronise data from all sources in real time.
“The operators are prepared to begin the process. The database and all other technical fronts are almost ready to start from January next year,” Shahed Alam, Robi Axiata's Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer, said.
Mohammad Mesbah Uddin, the joint secretary of Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers' Association or BMPIA, said, “The IMEI data of phones which are being produced in the country are being submitted to BTRC. These are being uploaded to the database now.
“The launch of the National EIR to stop these illegal mobile phones will help the genuine phone business to grow,” he added.
The BTRC has been sending warnings and instructing people to check if their handsets are genuine or fake, and collect and preserve the purchase receipt.
The verification can be done by texting ‘KYD [IMEI number]’ to 16002 on any phone.