The PTA is blocking unregistered mobile phones after October 20.

After October 20, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) will block all mobile phones whose International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is not registered with it.

The IMEI is a unique code given to your mobile by its maker just like a vehicle identification number. The government will use this number to identify valid phones on a network (like Jazz, Telenor or Zong for example) and block the handset’s access to the network.

Basically, if the PTA blocks your mobile phone’s IMEI number, you can’t use it to access any mobile network in Pakistan and your phone won’t be able to make or receive calls.

The PTA is not blocking any mobile phone, which is active right now till October 20. This includes those you bring from abroad or receive as gifts from your expatriate friends and family. However, after October 20 it will take actions against those found non-compliant (unregistered) with the PTA.

Should you worry?

If you have purchased a branded phone from the market, you need not worry because when you insert your SIM or connect with a network for the first time, your phone is registered automatically. However, if you have bought a Chinese phone of an unknown brand, your device may be using the same IMEI number as thousands of others and it will be blocked.

To find out if your device is registered, you have to send your IMEI number in a text message to 8484. This IMEI number can be obtained dialing *#06# from your smartphone or checking the battery compartment of non-smartphones.

If you receive a message saying ‘compliant’, you need not worry. In case you have two IMEI numbers this is because your phone has dual SIM function and in that case you may receive a message saying ‘valid’, but needs to register. For this, you just need to put your second SIM and make a call or send an SMM and it will be registered automatically.

In case you receive a message, non-compliant, in that case your phone is likely to be blocked. The PTA says it will restrict such phones to a maximum five phones per IMEI as opposed to the current practice where hundreds of phones have the same IMEI.

However, branded mobile phones your friends and family bring you as gifts from abroad will not be blocked. This is because their IMEI number is unique. But there is a little bother for those who bring such phones in Pakistan after October 20. They will need to make an entry with the customs at the airport or visit the PTA’s website where they can provide their imported phone’s custom details (tax deduction in the country where it was purchased from) and the PTA will register it.

Why is the PTA doing this?

The PTA is doing this to curb smuggling of mobile phones that evade taxes by using one IMEI number for multiple (read hundreds of thousands) mobile phones. This means when these phones arrive at the port, they pay duty on one IMEI (phone) instead of thousands that use the same IMEI. Presently 2 to 3 million phones are smuggled into Pakistan every month, according market sources. This costs the government, which can’t collect custom duty on these devices. The PTA says, this new policy will add Rs15 to 20 billion in the government’s revenue.

How will it work?

Presently, the CPLC has technology that uses IMEI numbers to block stolen, snatched or lost phones. It sends its information to the telecom authority, which then directs network providers to block it in 24 hours. The same technology is likely to be used for this purpose.

Is it a good move?

This latest development is part of the PTI government’s plan to go after tax evasion and raise revenue. Though a good move because it will discourage people from buying smuggled phones, it may not solve the problem.

Removing the duty on the other hand could.

Experts say the money smugglers save by evading duties is their only incentive for this business. By saving duty, they sell it cheaper, which gives them an unfair advantage over duty-paid phones that are more expensive.

“If you remove all duties from mobile phone imports, it will kill smuggling,” says Parvez Iftikhar, an Islamabad-based expert in information and communication technology. When legal imports are duty free (cheaper), smugglers will have no incentive to stay in the business, he says.

The ICT expert said there are 82 countries in the world that have signed an IT Agreement to keep all IT imports duty free.