Nagpur, a city in central India, has started to cut the network access of some mobile phones without an International Mobile Equipment Identity, and Chinese "shanzhai" mobile phone manufacturers are reportedly those that are most affected.
The word "shanzhai" or "shanzai", literally meaning "remote village" in Cantonese, has become a popular name for Chinese fakes and the slang now refers to anything that steals ideas or styles from already well-known products, personalities or concepts. According to media reports in India, there are currently 25 million mobile phones without IMEIs in India, and most of them are from shanzhai manufacturers in China. The Indian government's move is expected to bring a strong impact to these manufacturers.
An IMEI is a unique 15-digit code that identifies each mobile phone. Each time a call is made, the telecommunications company uses the IMEI to identify the caller via a universal registry of phones. If a phone lacks an IMEI, the telecommunications company can still route the number to the destination, but it does not know which phone is making the call. Chinese-made shanzhai phones lack the all-important IMEI number.
Prior to Nagpur's move, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India announced that it would also start to block mobile phones without IMEIs from December 1, 2009, but it appears total blocking throughout the country is not happening yet.
Telecom operators in India sent short messages to users prior to the December 1 deadline, warning users that they will not be able to make phone calls if they lack a real IMEI. However, an Indian user of a Chinese-made shanzhai mobile phone should be able to resume service when by inserting the SIM card into a mobile phone that has a real IMEI.
While this news in India is bad for grey market Chinese mobile phone manufacturers, this move also brings opportunities to Chinese mobile phone makers like Huawei and ZTE who do produce legitimate phones with real IMEI numbers.