The international mobile subscriber identity or IMSI is a number that uniquely identifies every user of a cellular network. It is stored as a 64-bit field and is sent by the mobile device to the network. It is also used for acquiring other details of the mobile in the home location register (HLR) or as locally copied in the visitor location register. To prevent eavesdroppers from identifying and tracking the subscriber on the radio interface, the IMSI is sent as rarely as possible and a randomly-generated TMSI is sent instead.
The IMSI is used in any mobile network that interconnects with other networks. For GSM, UMTS and LTE networks, this number was provisioned in the SIM card and for cdmaOne and CDMA2000 networks, in the phone directly or in the R-UIM card (the CDMA equivalent of the SIM card). Both cards have been superseded by the UICC.
An IMSI is usually presented as a 15-digit number but can be shorter. For example, MTN South Africa’s old IMSIs that are still in use in the market are 14 digits long. The first 3 digits represent the mobile country code (MCC), which is followed by the mobile network code (MNC), either 2-digit (European standard) or 3-digit (North American standard). The length of the MNC depends on the value of the MCC, and it is recommended that the length is uniform within a MCC area. The remaining digits are the mobile subscription identification number (MSIN) within the network’s customer base, usually 9 to 10 digits long, depending on the length of the MNC length.
The IMSI conforms to the ITU E.212 numbering standard.