What is IMEI and why is it important for your smartphone.

September 30, 2020

IMEI for a mobile device is like a TIN for a Russian resident. A long string of numbers serves as a unique identifier by which the mobile operator recognizes the phone and registers its appearance on the network. How is IMEI useful for an ordinary user and why in Russia they started talking about it at the state level?

Why do i need IMEI

International Mobile Equipment Identity (aka IMEI) is an international mobile equipment identifier. This means that not only in a single country, but in the whole world there are no two devices with the same IMEI. The identifier consists of 15 digits in decimal notation, although there are IMEIs in which two more digits are used for identification. The number itself is needed to register devices in GSM, WCDMA and IDEN cellular networks, as well as some satellite phones.

The IMEI registry contains information about all devices that can work with a SIM card.

The following information is encrypted in IMEI:

  • coding by Type Approval Code (2 digits manufacturer code and 4 - model);
  • country code where the final assembly of the device was performed (2 more digits);
  • unique serial number (6 digits);
  • backup number (last check digit).
  • Dual SIM mobile devices have two IMEI numbers.

Here are some typical situations where it is useful to know the IMEI:

you plan to test your mobile device at the purchase stage. On the case and packaging there is always the name of the model and the country where the device was produced. By checking the IMEI, you can make sure that the box contains an original device and not a fake;

you want to "identify" a lost and stolen mobile device. If an unpleasant situation has happened to you, you can prove ownership with the help of the box - the number printed on it must match the IMEI of the found device;

you need to block a phone or a smartphone that is caught by the intruders. If your device is stolen and you are not hoping to get it back, contact your network operator to request a lock. But first you have to prove that you are the real owner of the gadget. To do this, present in the operator's cabin the original packaging with an intact IMEI number, the device passport and a receipt confirming the purchase.

A phone that has been blocked by one cellular operator by IMEI will work without problems in the network of another operator. This loophole is successfully used by cybercriminals: they steal phones and then sell them to other countries. It's another matter if the owner of the stolen phone entered its IMEI into a special database - the Global black list. Then the device will not function in the networks of most cellular operators - those that use this base.

Who is responsible for maintaining the IMEI database

Where there is global identification, one cannot do without regulatory authorities. In our case, these are several organizations, including the GSM Association and BABT (British Approvals Board for Telecommunications).

The mobile device reports its IMEI to the cellular operator at the time of registration in the mobile network. Using this identifier, the operator further determines the location of the subscriber in whose hands the device is. The accuracy is low - within a radius of up to several hundred meters - but sometimes it helps to narrow the search circle.

How to find out the IMEI of a mobile device

There are several ways to do this - just choose the one that suits you best.

Method one: type a key combination. Dial the code * # 06 # on the digital or physical (if you have a push-button telephone) keyboard. No additional actions like pressing the call button are required - the code (or two codes if the device has two-digit) will appear on the screen in a second.

Method two: disassemble the case . This option is only suitable for devices with disassembled cases, although recently such ones are being sold less and less, and the case can be disassembled only in a service center. Usually, IMEI is written under the removable battery, the serial number of the device and the full model name will also be indicated there.

Method three: examine the original packaging . If you are 100% sure that it belongs to your device, look at its ends - there will be a sticker with IMEI. The information on the package and on the coupon must match!

Method four: open the settings . Go to the main settings menu, find the "About phone" - "General information" item there. One of the lines in the list will contain the data for the IMEI identifier. Please note that the names of the menu items may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Choose items that are as similar as possible in meaning so as not to be mistaken.

Can I change IMEI ?

Yes, and for the first time this was told in 2002 by representatives of the British operators Vodafone and British Telecom. They said that users themselves can make the necessary changes to the software part of the phone. But if it is a device with a removable battery, the sticker with the IMEI, of course, will give out the "native" digital sequence. Another thing is that changing the identifier is a difficult, risky, and in some countries it is also illegal. Strict rules on this matter are already in place in Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The easiest way to change IMEI is in smartphones running Android, much more difficult - in Apple devices. To do this, the owners of "apple phones" need to contact the official service center in their country, indicate the reasons for changing the number and present a package of documents. We do not recommend that you experiment with changing the IMEI, the only exception is that the smartphone returned to the owner after being stolen. If the number was previously blocked, it will need to be updated so that the device can be used again for its intended purpose, for calls.

About mobile devices in 50 shades of gray

The sensational erotic novel, and later the film based on it, has nothing to do with it: we are talking about the so-called "white" and "gray" phones. And here IMEI? Look: "white" - those phones that enter the country officially, with all the necessary documents. The seller takes them through customs, observing the regulations, and pays taxes.

The second category of devices is gray phones. These are not fakes, from the technical point of view, these are the same devices as "white" ones. The main difference lies in the legality of import: they enter the country bypassing the legislation, without certification and payment of customs duties. It is beneficial for both sellers and buyers: the former get the opportunity to set a price lower than that of competitors selling officially imported products, and the latter buy the goods they need cheaper.

Gray phones have two huge drawbacks. First: they are not covered by the official manufacturer's warranty, and the seller deals with warranty cases (and then, if he turns out to be bona fide). Service terms are minimal: 1-3 months instead of the usual 12-24 months, which are given by the seller of "white" devices. The second affected party is the state: it does not receive deductions in the form of taxes and duties, from which the budget is then formed.

IMEI and Rossvyaz plans

For several years in Russia, the idea to create a list of "white" IMEIs within the country has been hovering in the cloud. Officials are concerned about the amounts that go past the budget because of "gray" devices, therefore they plan to control the turnover of mobile devices. The Association of Internet Trade Companies (AKIT) has already developed rules for registration by IMEI numbers, and the register itself will be created on the basis of the Central Research Institute of Communications under Rossvyaz (TsNIIS).

In the AKIT classification, “black” IMEIs have been added to the “white” and “gray” identifiers. The last group includes devices that were stolen or illegally imported into the country. But "gray" will be called devices that are not prohibited to use, but you must definitely add them to the "white" IMEI list. It is expected that the database with IMEI numbers will be created by 2023, and mobile devices manufactured in the Russian Federation will automatically go there - neither sellers nor buyers will have to do anything on their own. The State Duma has high hopes for this innovation and believes that it will bring to zero the import of "gray" phones and will fill the country's budget.


  • IMEI is a unique identifier for a mobile device.
  • IMEI will help you get extended information about your smartphone.
  • IMEI is used to block and search for stolen devices.
  • Russia is planning to maintain a database of "white" IMEI numbers.

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