Indonesia’s black-market phone prevention plan bricks a whole bunch of handsets

Database recording legit handsets appears to have exceeded capacity

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Indonesia's cellphone registration scheme – an effort to protect local manufacturers, boost the tax base, and ensure consumers don't end up with dodgy products – appears to have run aground.

The nation's plan was hatched in 2019 in response to the scourge of black-market handhelds imported into Indonesia by folks with little interest in paying import taxes or whether customers would enjoy good network connections. The presence of black market phones also threatened local manufacturers.

Indonesia therefore decided no cellphone could touch local networks if the unique International Mobile Equipment Identity number (IMEI) baked into every handset wasn't registered with the government. It's since established a database to list IMEIs, called the centralized equipment identity register (CEIR). If a device isn't listed in CEIR it's a virtual brick right out of the box if used in Indonesia.

CEIR opened for business on September 15, 2020. And not long afterwards it lost the ability to record new IMEIs, seemingly because it lacks the capacity to do so. But the rest of the scheme acts as intended: if an IMEI isn't in the CEIR, a phone can't use local cellular networks.

Which means that new phones rolling off local production lines, or imports coming off the docks, effectively can't be sold and used.

For local manufacturers, that's a cashflow killer. Offshore smartphone makers get the double whammy of working under a new scheme that explicitly protects local vendors and having that scheme mess up their sales.

The Register understands that frantic talks are now taking place to figure out how to get CEIR working, with one option being a purge of all currently stored IMEIs.

At this point readers may be asking why Indonesia uses a whitelist instead of a blacklist. The answer probably lies in the difficulty of policing imports across Indonesia's 17,000-plus islands and their combined 54,000km of coastline. Throw in the fact that by some estimates Indonesia's mobile phone black market exceeds ten million units a year and the nation clearly has quite a challenge. ®


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