Since the advent of 3G and 4G telecom services, there is a rapid influx of smart devices into Pakistan, over the past two years. However, the high import duty and taxes on handsets, have caused a sharp rise in the smuggling of handsets, through illegal channels, leading to major revenue losses for the government exchequer.

Millions of Illegal and stolen mobile handsets, tablets, SIM-based routers, Laptops and replica devices with invalid IMEIs are now being sold and used in the country. The misuse of these unregistered handsets, for criminal and fraudulent activities, cannot be traced or monitored through mobile networks, hence posing serious threats to public safety.

DIRBS – the Software for Stopping the Smuggling of Phones

Realizing this issue, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is now launching a comprehensive initiative to discourage smuggling and theft of mobile devices, by blocking these illegal and counterfeit handsets operating in the country.

Also Read: Everything To Know About Mobile Phone Registration And Duty In Pakistan; For Locals and Foreigners

The new system will be called ‘Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System’ (DIRBS), which will use the distinct IMEI number of each device, along with other parameters, to help in identifying, monitoring and regulating such devices. The IMEI — distinct ID of the phone — of illegal devices will be reported to the cellular companies and other concerned bodies.

The telecom regulator of Pakistan will operate the DIRBS as a ‘Centralized Equipment Identity Register’ to discourage the use of mobile devices that are smuggled through the Grey channel. That means PTA will maintain the database of all the mobile phones in Pakistan.

This system will work by generating different lists, categorizing the legal status and authenticity of all the handsets in the country.

Each distinct IMEI will be paired with a specific ‘Computerized National Identity Card’ (CNIC) belonging to its registered user, who must be officially connected to a particular cellular network.

How Will DIRBS Work?

According to PTA’s new regulation, companies or individuals importing/carrying mobile phones for personal use will be required to register their devices and get a certification of compliance with technical standards. Any device with an IMEI that does not meet the legal criteria will be blacklisted. Hence, it will not be able to register or operate through any cellular network in the country.

Any device with an IMEI that does not meet the legal criteria will be blacklisted. Hence, it will not be able to register or operate through any cellular network in the country.

DIRBS will provide; updated ‘Black Lists’, ‘Exception Lists’ and ‘Notification Lists’ to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) at regular intervals. Consequently, the MNOs will use these lists for blocking and unblocking of mobile devices and intimation to the subscribers, wherever required.

Mobile communication services will be denied to all devices who’s IMEIs are included in the updated ‘Black List’. However, the specific IMEIs and their subscription Pairings included in the operator-specific ‘Exceptions List’ will continue receiving mobile communication services, even if their IMEIs appear in the Black List.

The ‘Notification List’ will also be MNO-specific and it will be used to indicate mobile devices with certain issues. The relevant MNOs may communicate with such devices and help resolve the issues. If the device’s issues remain unresolved for a specific period, its IMEI will be sent to the Black List.

Any device blacklisted by PTA will not be activated except for lost, stolen and type-approved devices, which are verified by DIRBS in accordance with the SOP.

According to the regulations ‘Compliant and Approved’ devices that are roaming in Pakistan, will be allowed to temporarily operate in the country. MNOs shall not permit the installation of any terminal equipment/device that is not approved by PTA.

PTA will install the required hardware, software and infrastructure for DIRBS to enable the mobile phone producers and network operators to report to PTA and block any illegal device or businesses that deal in stolen devices. However, all MNOs shall upgrade their hardware and software systems at their own cost, to support this new system and block the mobile devices placed on the Black List.

The innovative solution will enhance government revenue and benefit the entire mobile ecosystem, by ensuring that devices are only imported through legal channels. Besides creating lists of illegal, smuggled and stolen phones, PTA is also committed to shutting down all mobile shops that offer the flashing/changing of IMEIs on devices. Similar monitoring systems are already implemented in numerous other countries, where positive results are being achieved to protect the consumers’ interests.