What Is My Phone’s IMEI, And What Is It For? [MakeUseOf Explains]

Ads by Google

You might have heard the acronym “IMEI” and know it relates loosely to the identity of your phone, but do you know exactly what it’s function is and what it is used for? Every new phone sold should have a unique IMEI number that is meant to remain the same for the lifetime of that product.

As smartphones increasingly become the target of theft across the world, the value of an IMEI number – and more importantly having a record of your device’s number – is not to be underestimated. In this article we’ll explore why our mobile devices need an IMEI and run through the basic methods that will enable you to find and record yours.

What Is An IMEI

IMEI literally stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. The clue’s in the name, but each and every device should have a unique IMEI to differentiate it from the rest of the pack. When you buy a new phone you may notice the IMEI on the box or even the receipt. If ever you have to take your phone in for repair then there’s a good chance the IMEI will be noted for warranty and identity purposes.

A standard IMEI number is a 14 digit decimal string accompanied by an additional check number and an IMEI/SV (with the SV standing for software version) is 16 decimal digits, though these only usually appear on newer devices. The purpose of an IMEI goes beyond simple identification and the number can be used to block devices from accessing the cellular network. If your phone is stolen and you notify your service provider, they will block the device from their network and in some regions other networks too. Police often keep a record of stolen phones and use IMEI numbers as identification.

As of 2004, the current format for these unique identifiers is AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D. The first two portions labelled A and B are known as the type allocation code (TAC), and these directly relate to the manufacturer and model of the phone. As an example, the current iPhone 5 has a TAC of 01-332700 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 uses 35-853704. The section of the code labeled C is a serial number unique to the handset and defined by the manufacturer. The last digit is a checksum, used for verifying the entire string.

Ads by Google

The IMEI is locked to the device, and has no relation to the SIM card. If your phone is stolen, settings reset and the SIM card is replaced, the IMEI will not change without further intervention. If your phone is stolen and you attempt to block it using the IMEI, be sure to ask your carrier if this block will extend to other networks as well. If not, you might want to try contacting the other major networks in your region to ask what can be done. In certain regions changing the IMEI number is illegal without a good reason to do so, and the practice is generally frowned upon as there are very few valid reasons for doing so.

While it may be illegal to change the IMEI of a device, it does happen. Thieves in particular will attempt to take non-blacklisted numbers and apply them to their stolen devices in order to make them usable again. For this reason it comes highly recommended that you never share or post your IMEI online, else you may find that your device can be cloned. In the interests of ongoing investigations by authorities, an IMEI can be used when wiretapping a device as well.

How To Find Your IMEI

The majority of mobile devices will display their IMEI by entering *#06# on the keypad. This is generally enough to reveal the code on older devices and most newer ones too, though you can also use other techniques if you’ve got a phone manufactured by one of the following:

  • iOS (iPhone, LTE/3G iPad): Found in the Settings > General > About menu.
  • Android: Found in the “Settings” menu under “About Phone”.
  • Older Sony or Sony Ericsson: Enter “* Right * Left Left * Left *” on the keypad.
  • Blackberry or newer Sony Ericsson: Found in the “Options” menu under “Status”.

If you would like to check exactly what your phone’s IMEI number says about your handset then you can do so using IMEI.info.

Conclusion

The IMEI numbers in your mobile devices are important and unique identifiers that you should make a note of right now if you haven’t already. If your phone is stolen then the IMEI won’t help get it back, though you will be able to take some solace in the knowledge that you can render the device useless as a phone.

Have you ever blocked a phone using its IMEI? Have you got a record of the identification numbers stored in your device? Add your thoughts and questions in the comments, below.

Image Credit: Intro Image (Shutterstock)SIM Card (kalleboo), Android Phone (Johan Larsson), Mobile Phone Recycling (meanestindian), Warning Sign (Andwar)

Join live MakeUseOf Groups on Grouvi App Join live Groups on Grouvi
Technology Explained
Technology Explained
35 Members
Ads by Google
Comments (20)
  • Anand Kumar

    You can decode IMEI to identify Manufacturer, Brand, Model, some technical
    capabilities and valid devices. And carrier use IMEI to identify in case your phone lost – stolen and blacklist this device.

    Have many website to check your IMEI number to get details about your phone like manufacturer date, factory, purchase country, purchase date and blacklist information like imeidata.net. I hope that help.

  • Anonymous

    nice article very well written …. some thing i can …makeuseof ….. really no kidding

  • Keith D.

    Wow! I never knew! But… shouldn’t I now feel… you know, ENLIGHTENED?! lol

  • Ole Funch

    Thx – good article ?

  • vineed gangadharan

    so we can track people if we have their imei???

Load 10 more
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.