The International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI is a number, usually unique, to identify 3GPP and iDEN mobile phones, as well as some satellite phones. It is usually found printed inside the battery compartment of the phone, but can also be displayed on-screen on most phones by entering *#06# on the dialpad, or alongside other system information in the settings menu on smartphone operating systems.
GSM networks use the IMEI number to identify valid devices, and can stop a stolen phone from accessing the network. For example, if a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can have their network provider use the IMEI number to blacklist the phone. This renders the phone useless on that network and sometimes other networks, even if the thief changes the phone’s subscriber identity module (SIM).
The IMEI only identifies the device and has no particular relationship to the subscriber. The phone identifies the subscriber by transmitting the International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, which it stores on a SIM card that can, in theory, be transferred to any handset. However, the network’s ability to know a subscriber’s current, individual device enables many network and security features.