IMEI vs. MEID what is the difference?

Are you wondering what that IMIE or MEID number is on your cell phone? Wondering why your phone shows an MEID number instead of an IMEI number or vise versa? Interested in knowing what the difference between the two is? Then you have come to the right place. This article explains what an IMEI and MEID number is and what they are used for.

Purpose of the IMIE and MEID

Both of these numbers are often referred to as “Device Identifiers” and are used to help wireless carriers and cell phone manufactures identify specific devices. Each of these Device Identifiers is unique to their specific device.

Think of the IMEI number or MEID number as the phones Social Security Number. There might be thousands of a specific make and model of phone produced and released but each of those cell phones will have its own unique Device Identifier.

Finding your phones Device Identifier

There are a few ways that you can locate the IMEI/MEID number on your cell phone.

Through the dialer

On most smartphones the easiest way to find your phones IMEI/MEID number is to open up the phones dial pad as if you were going to dial a telephone number and type in *#06#. Once you type in “*#06#” the IMEI will pop up on the phones display.

Through the settings

You can also locate your cell phones Device Identifier through the phones settings. This will depend on what type of phone you have and what version of software is on the phone so you might have to search around in your settings a bit to find it.

On the label

Sometimes it’s not possible to even use the phone. How can you provide this number if your phone won’t even power on for example? IMEI and MEID numbers are usually printed on a sticker and are attached to the phone. The exact location will depend on your device but it’s often located in the phones battery compartment, SIM compartment, or memory slot. If your phone allows you to remove the battery then take the battery out and look where the battery sits and your likely to see your phones IMEI/MEID number.

If you have an Android smartphone and would like some more information about how and where to locate your phones IMEI/MEID number you can click here for more details.

What are the differences between an IMEI an MEID or ESN?

These are all types of Device Identifiers.

ESN

ESN stands for Electronic Serial Number and was/is used in the United States to identify cell phones that require a CDMA network for wireless service. ESNs are slowly being phased out in favor of the MEID, a longer number that is more similar to the IMEI number which is used in GSM and UMTS cell phones.

MEID

A Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID) is 14 digits long and is used to identify a cell phone that utilizes the CDMA technology for wireless service. CDMA phones don’t typically have SIM cards and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is just a type of technology used for wireless phone service.

Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular are all wireless communications service providers that use the CDMA technology to provide service to their customers.

IMEI

An International Mobile Station Equipment Identity or IMEI for short is a number that identifies mobile phones that run on a GSM network.  

GSM is just another type of wireless technology used for mobile service.

AT&T and T-Mobile are both wireless carriers that use GSM technology to provide their customers with wireless service.

So what does all this mean?

Nothing much for the average phone owner; in a nutshell if you have a phone that runs on the CDMA network then your phone is going to have an MEID number. If your phone uses GSM technology for wireless service then your phone is going to have an IMEI number. It’s as simple as that.

What can they be used for?

These numbers are actually very important for cell phones and the mobile phone industry.

Wireless carriers

If a cell phone is lost or stolen then that cell phones wireless provider can block that phones IMEI/MEID number and that specific phone will no longer be able to connect to a wireless network and will no longer have service. The device will be pretty much worthless as a phone. This is great as is discourages theft and fraud.

IMEI numbers are also used by wireless carriers to look up what kind of phone you have, when you activated that phone for the first time (they can see your activation date and time to the second), and they can see what telephone numbers have been used on a specific phone using that phones IMEI/MEID number. This is also a powerful tool as the first used date of that phone can show the phones warranty date and when that phone is out of warranty.

If you contact a phones warranty department then chances are they might just want the IMEI/MEID/ESN or S/N number off that phone not only to check the warranty date but also to make sure that they receive the correct phone if it needs to be sent in to be repaired or replaced.

Manufactures

This is a good way to track common issues as well. If there seems to be a common problem that is occurring on a specific cell phone the manufacture can cross reference the phones IMEI/MEID numbers to see if the phone was produced around a specific time or specific location. If a pattern emerges the manufacture can tag specific IMIE numbers that were assigned to the bad batch of phones and add those phones to a known defect list.

This all happens behind the scenes of course and users of these cell phones are not guaranteed to experience any issues whatsoever but it’s a powerful tool to track such things. And if a known issue is a physical problem like a defective piece of hardware (like a volume key for example) then the cell phone user is less likely to be considered at fault for physical damage when they try to file a warranty claim as it’s a known issue with the phone.

Since physical damage voids a phones warranty then a known issue could mean the difference between getting the cell phone repaired or replacement for free by the phones carrier or phones manufacture, or having to buy another phone which can be expensive. Especially if your still locked in a contract and don’t have the option to upgrade yet.

Other uses for the IMEI and MEID

Buying a used cell phone

This is also an important thing to keep in mind when buying a used phone. If the description of the phone for sell says “bad ESN” “bad IMEI” or “bad MEID” then the phone is not going to be able to connect to a wireless network and is not going to be able to make and receive calls, so unless you are buying the phone for replacement parts you might want to think twice before buying it.

Tracking – lost or stolen cell phones

Some third party applications claim to be able to help you track your phone in the event that it gets stolen. Using your specific device (often with its Device Identifier) and through the use of the phones GPS feature. These applications need to be installed on the phone before it gets stolen, and offer no guarantee of helping you locate or recover your stolen phone.

The idea is sound, but often there are no guarantees when it comes to stolen or lost phones.

Tracking – Repair and replacements

Earlier in the article I mentioned that IMIEs are a powerful tool of cell phone manufactures and wireless carriers because it aids them in tracking their equipment. But don’t forget that it can also protect you as well.

If you ship your phone in to get it repaired or are sending in a malfunctioning phone after receiving a replacement and then a week or two later your phone comes back all smashed up with a letter inside letting you know that the phone was returned damaged and is no longer under warranty, but when you sent in your phone it was perfectly fine, and not only is this phone broken, but doesn’t quite feel like your phone then you can compare the IMEI/MEID of the phone you sent in to the one that you got back to make sure it’s even the phone you had in the first place. If it’s not then there was a mix-up and you should certainly point that out to the people you were sending your phone into for repair or replacement.

Insurance or warranty claims through your Point of Sale

One minor thing to keep in mind and that I feel like I should mention about IMEIs is a little grey area when choosing to buy phone protection through your POS (Point of Sale). If you buy your phone through a reputable retailer, let’s say… Best Buy for example, who offers you an extended warranty through their store for an additional fee then they typically require you to return the exact same phone you purchased from them when filing that warranty claim.

So let me try to explain in more detail. If you buy a phone from a retail location, pay to have that phone insured through that retail location as opposed to purchasing protection through your wireless carrier or an insurance provider like Asurion, and that phone malfunctions. You must take it back to that retail location to have it replaced and must not choose to file a warranty claim or insurance claim through your wireless provider because if you do, the retails warranty that you purchased is going to be void because the phone you received as a replacement for your warranty claim is not the same phone that you purchased at that retail location, and as such their IMEI numbers are not going to match.

So if you choose to buy an extended warranty from your Point of Sale, make sure to use that extended warranty first, before filing a manufactures warranty claim. That way there are no problems later and it will not only save you the money you spent on the extended warranty but a lot of time and frustration later on down the road.

So now you know

I hope that this has article has shed some light on that mysterious IMEI or MEID number shown on your cell phone. If you have found this article informative or helpful you can let me know that you liked it by leaving a friendly comment or by simply pressing the Facebook Like button or Google + button below. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out some of the other interesting articles on the site.

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7 Comments

Asking for any suggestions on how to get a virus off cell phone.

I appreciate you for explaining the difference between IMEI/ MEID, but which one do I need to go with? Someone tried to hack my facebook, gmail was changed, password hacked, contacts gone, etc.

PLEASE Help!! Also I am THANKFUL for people like yourself, I am still new to the internet world AND could use some advice. You can text me if you can't get through my gmail account because I'm still trying to fix all the issues.

Tanya

Happy to help

Hi Tanya,

You won’t have to pick between an IMEI or an MEID number your phone has one automatically. It’s like your SSN you don’t get to pick what your Social Security Number is its just assigned to you at birth. The same goes with a smartphone; as soon as it’s made it’s assigned a number.

If you want to find out what your phones IMEI or MEID number actually is then you can see an example with pictures by clicking --> HERE <--. It may not be the same phone that you have but it should help point you in the right direction as far as locating the IMEI or MEID number on your phone.

It does sound like a real problem on your cell phone. Viruses and hacking isn’t as common on cell phones yet like it is on normal computers but software issues do happen.

If you think that your phone has a virus or software issue then you can start fresh by performing a hard reset or factory data reset which basically wipes everything off the phone and makes it like it was brand new again. If you want to know how to backup and reset your phone then you can read my Guide on how to backup and reset an Android smartphone. I tried to be as detailed as possible for people who may not be as tech and internet savvy as other phone owners so I don’t think you will have too much trouble with it. That will help you get your phone back to like new condition and remove anything that might have been put on your phone that’s causing issues.

Do you know what the name of your phone is? Different phones will have different troubleshooting steps.

As far as some tips when using the internet… I removed your phone number from your comment. Unless you are ordering or buying something online then you shouldn’t post your personal information for the world to see. Things like your phone number, email, physical address, etc don’t need to be shared publically but can be shared on a need to know basis.

For example: If you order or buy something online then whoever you ordered it from would “need to know” where to send it so it would be ok to provide them with your address and they might need to contact you as well so providing an email or phone number would typically be ok as well. I just wanted to point that out for you, as it could save you a big headache later.

I hope that helps Tanya, if you have any more questions then don’t hesitate to ask.

IMEI Number

The IMEI number is used by your carrier to register your phone on their network. Usually this is done in the store so you are not aware that it is happening. The clerk messes with your phone and then hands a working phone to you.

Yep that’s right

Hi Cliff,

Thank you for taking the time to comment and yes, phone companies can and do use the IMEI from a cell phone to register and communicate with that phone through their network. And much of the time it’s all done automatically.

For example if you had an AT&T phone then it operates on the GSM technology (briefly mentioned above) and many of these types of phones use SIM cards to communicate with a wireless network. If you were to take a SIM card from an active AT&T cell phone and then put that SIM card into another AT&T mobile phone then the IMEI number on that other AT&T phone should automatically sync with the AT&T network and AT&T would be able to see that you put your SIM into that exact phone (using the IMEI number) at the exact time that it connected to their network for the first time.

And it all happens behind the scenes which is great as all that really matters is that your cell phone connects with the wireless network and works properly. Isn’t technology awesome? Thanks again for commenting Cliff; I hope you have a fantastic day.

Stolen phones

Nice article. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I would just like to ask a question and leave one comment. You write:

"If a cell phone is lost or stolen then that cell phones wireless provider can block that phones IMEI/MEID number and that specific phone will no longer be able to connect to a wireless network and will no longer have service. The device will be pretty much worthless as a phone. This is great as is discourages theft and fraud."

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that blocking the IMEI (on a GSM phone) will keep the thief from using your ACCOUNT. It does nothing to make the PHONE worthless, since the thief can just insert a new SIM card. (People are discussing ways to allow the carrier to kill the PHONE after a theft, but that's not what you were discussing above.)

Thanks again.

Terrific Question! And the answer is Yes, and No…

Hi Dan,

You asked a very good question.

Yes, on a GSM network like AT&T or T-Mobile you would be able to remove a SIM card from one phone, insert it into another phone from the same carrier and use either phone that the SIM card was inserted in. The SIM connects the phone to the wireless network, accesses your account and allows you to use whatever phone number is associated to that SIM card on whatever phone the SIM is inserted into.

So for example, if you have an AT&T smartphone and it malfunctioned and you needed a phone as soon as possible, then you could run down to a local store, buy an AT&T phone, remove the SIM from your malfunctioning cell phone, insert it into the new cell phone (assuming that the SIMs are compatible), turn on the new cell phone, the SIM will reach out to AT&T and tell the AT&T network to start using this new phone.

If you called AT&T, and verified account ownership, the AT&T representative would be able to pull up your account information and see the IMEI number that is currently being used by your wireless telephone number. The AT&T computer system should do all this automatically behind the scenes although if your phone didn’t connect properly the representative could go in and update the IMEI manually.

If however your phone was stolen, you called AT&T and reported it stolen, AT&T would deactivate the SIM card (so that the thief couldn’t connect or use your account any more even if they inserted the stolen SIM into a different phone), and they would mark the phone as stolen which would blacklist the phones device identifier aka the IMEI number and they would no longer be able to connect the stolen phone to the AT&T network either, even if they tried to use a different and working SIM card in the stolen phone.

The working SIM would try to connect the stolen phone to the AT&T network, the network would try to verify the IMEI number, see that it was blacklisted and then refuse service to that phone. Whoever was trying to use the stolen phone would have no wireless service, even though their SIM card is perfectly legitimate.

This is a shame because sometimes thieves sell the worthless phones to unsuspecting buyers, at a discount of course, the unsuspecting buyer receives it, tries to use it, and low and behold it doesn’t connect and has no service. The unsuspecting person calls AT&T (or whoever the carrier is) confused because their phone should have connected and didn’t and asks them to see if they needed to call in to activate the phone. The representative pulls up the account, to see why their customer’s phone won’t connect to their network; they run the IMEI and find that the phone was reported lost or stolen. Then they have the unfortunate duty of telling their customer that they were scammed and have purchased a stolen and worthless phone which the carrier cannot re-active as the person calling in could be the thief for all the representative knows.

When the customer tries to contact the person(s) that sold them the phone they don’t get a reply or the vender has vanished. A very messed up situation for the person whose phone was stolen, for the person the stolen phone was sold to, and even messy for the wireless carrier who supports the phone; very lucrative however for the thief who has vanished into thin air.

So does blocking an IMEI number prevent theft? Yes, as the person stealing the phone won’t be able to use it; and No, because it doesn’t prevent them from selling the worthless phone to someone else.

Since technically the phone would still power on the thief could use it as a mobile media device, like an MP3 player or connect to Wi-Fi for a data connection but as far as wireless service the phone would be worthless.

So good question Dan, I hope that helps clarify things a little bit. Thanks for commenting and visiting the site. I love receiving and answering terrific questions like yours. If you have any more questions or you’re curious about anything else then don’t hesitate to ask.

MEID/IMEI number used for breaches

Hi
If you give your IMEI/MEID to someone to obtain an unlock code in order to put in another vendor sim card, is there any security concerns i should consider now that this person has my unique identifer?

Tks

Jojoleco

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