The first GSM International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) numbers were allocated in 1992 by TÜV SÜDBABT. The IMEI enables Network Operators to identify individual mobile phones accessing their networks.
Initially, IMEIs were allocated following product type approval under the European Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (TTE) Directive. Only Approved equipment was allocated an IMEI and permitted access to the GSM networks. With the change to the Radio Equipment and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) Directive in April 2000, IMEI allocation was no longer linked to regulatory European Type Approval.
The main purpose of the IMEI is to be able to take measures against the use of stolen equipment or against equipment which may cause technical problems when connected to a network. Other purposes include special network handling of specific mobile equipment types, the tracing and prevention of malicious call use, assistance in fraud investigation and configuration management of the customer equipment base.
The management of mobile equipment identities is achieved via the Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR), managed by the GSM Association, and the Equipment Identity Register (EIR), managed by the network operator. Black, White and Grey Lists of IMEI are used for stolen, valid mobiles and mobiles that need tracking respectively.
TÜV SÜD BABT allocates IMEI for incorporation in the GSM Association's IMEI database. This database is used to populate the CEIR.
The integrity of the IMEI is critical for the viability of the CEIR and EIRs. It is in the interests of the whole GSM industry that the integrity of the IMEI is maintained.