Plans to block illegal
cell phones unfeasible

The government is preparing to allow telecoms operators to block the use of illegally imported mobile phones, a move which is expected to encourage mobile phone manufacturers to open factories in Indonesia.

Mobile phone operators themselves are skeptical about the plan, saying that the measure will be costly, requiring expensive technology to block the use of the so-called illegal phones.

Trade Ministry’s director general for foreign trade Bachrul Chairi said that the new rule, now under discussion at the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, would promote the function of the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, or identification code unique to every device, to control activation of the gadgets.

“When we apply this, illegal mobile phones cannot be used in Indonesia, unless their IMEI numbers are registered,” he told reporters at his office.

The implementation of this rule would actively involve telecommunication operators, who would be authorized to block access of unregistered identification numbers to their networks, Bachrul further said.

The wide circulation of illegal phones has discouraged a number of phone manufacturers such as South Korean-based Samsung Electronics and Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group. The two companies have expressed willingness to build factories but are worried that the large number of illegal handsets would hurt sales.

Asked about the proposed law, executives of major mobile operators said that the measure was unrealistic because a lack of the technology which could be used to block the illegal hardware.

Sumantri Joko Yuwono, head product development and management at PT Indosat, said that blocking illegal phones would require a “massive effort” technically.

“This also means that operators have to put in considerable investment if the regulation were to apply,” he added.

To block illegal mobile phones, operators must install hardware and software which would run the Equipment Identity Register process. He said that the equipment would be very expensive.

 Gatot S. Dewabrata, the spokesman for the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, also expressed similar concerns, saying that it would be technically very difficult for operators to block anything.

“This is because the social costs of doing such blocking are high,” he said. According to Gatot, mobile phone buyers may not be aware that the mobile phones they purchase are illegal.

“If phones are blocked, consumers suffer instead of vendors,” he said.

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