Is It True That If Your Android Device Is Rooted or Running a Custom ROM, #LazimaItazimwa?

While there’s some truth in the above title, that title/statement can be very misleading too. Yet it is what greeted my eyes late afternoon yesterday upon checking various social media platforms that I happen to be active in. Within hours I had even received calls and lengthy emails from other worried Kenyans who are fretting the possibility of their beloved devices being locked out by network operators as the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) mounts a serious crack down on fake mobile devices. Since the hour of locking out all counterfeit phones has come, let’s look at what all this “noise” is about.

Why Would a Rooted Android Device (Phone/Tablet/Phablet) Be Locked Out?

The Samsung Galaxy S3. Imagine losing the IMEI number of this device.

Simple, as much as I don’t know the specific method that CCK in collaboration with network operators like Safaricom and Orange is going to employ to detect fake devices and lock them out (or switch them off in common street parlance), there’s one critical element that is at the center of all this process: the IMEI number.

IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) is simply the 15 digit code (14 digits and an extra checksum digit) that is available on most mobile devices at the back, underneath the battery and is used by the network operators to identify the devices on their networks. The IMEI number has sections that provide crucial information about a device’s origin, model and serial number. Since it identifies devices on a network, it can therefore be used to block the specific device, regardless of the SIM card connected, from accessing any network. This is what majority fear. Why do they fear? There is a possibility that processes like jailbreaking (for iOS devices) and rooting may result in tampering with the IMEI number and subsequently either total deletion of the device’s IMEI number or a reassignment of the IMEI number using generic ones.

This is true. Rooting if done inappropriately may result in one losing their device’s IMEI number. I have read of several such cases in the various Android forums that I am active in. A quick Google search will prove this, many people use flashable scripts for other devices to root their devices which result in such instances. Others tend to lose their IMEI numbers after updating their device firmware. I don’t know why such problems have to be associated with the Chinese but most Android devices (more so tablets) from unrecognizable and totally unknown Chinese brands end up in this state after software upgrades officially released by the manufacturer. Why a manufacturer would offer firmware updates that end up screwing their customer’s prized devices is a question only them can answer but it should not be lost on anyone that with every release of a newer Android version, most weak hardware builds can’t withstand it (explains why many Android devices will never get official updates after Gingerbread, never see Jelly Bean). My advice: avoid most of the cheap Chinese tablets flooding the market currently.

Rooting may contribute to such a scenario when you wrongly install a custom recovery. While this is rare since most installations of custom recoveries tend to go well, the subsequent installation of custom ROMs is where most people screw up their devices. This is the case in major smartphone markets like North America, Europe and Asia. In North America (specifically the United States) for instance, most devices are locked to networks like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile etc and most OEMs like Samsung, LG and HTC provide specific devices to each carrier, complete with different names and model numbers even though belonging to the same family as a single “International Edition” iteration of the same device. Installing custom ROMs on such devices after unlocking them if not done appropriately mostly results in missing IMEIs or use of generic IMEIs.

In instances like I have described above, one may lose their IMEI number and if dialing the standard short code for checking the IMEI number on most devices,  *#06# may result in results like: Nil/0 or something like 0/00, then you have lost your IMEI number. In most cases that translates to losing your device’s basebands too.

Primarily, losing your IMEI number and the basebands means that you won’t access any networks (GSM, UMTS and the like. CDMA uses ESN, an equivalent of IMEI) and you’ll be prompted that your device has an invalid IMEI number every time you boot. As far as I know, this is not the case with the majority of devices in Kenya. Many have been using their devices to date without any problems: calling, texting, surfing the internet as usual without any glitches. This shows that nothing is wrong with your device and even after this CCK deadline is long gone, you’ll have to find other ways of screwing up your device and being locked out by a network operator, not rooting! I don’t know much about jailbreaking but I am sure there won’t be much difference on the other side of the fence.

Just to be sure that your Android device still has its original IMEI number, keying in the shortcode is not enough. If you still have the sales receipt then check the IMEI number that is printed on the receipt (those who buy devices from reputable sellers/shops in Kenya or elsewhere have the IMEI printed on the receipt) and see if it matches the one that is displayed upon keying in the shortcode and that found underneath the battery. If they match then you are safe, if they don’t there is a problem; a very big problem.

Also, your IMEI is missing, if after flashing a custom ROM you get any of the following error messages when booting:

[Drive Letter]: failed to mount /efs (invalid argument)

[Drive Letter]: check_selective_file:Can’t mount /efs

[Drive Letter]: failed to mount /efs (invalid argument)

                           Install_application_for_customer: Can’t mount /efs

                         copy application failed

There are very many other error messages that can come up as a result of a tampered with IMEI. Such error messages will also be likely seen if you try to cleverly increase your Android device’s internal memory by partitioning its sd card and mounting it as an extension. That is the main reason why I don’t recommend low end Android phones like the Huawei U8150 IDEOS to use apps like S2E or Link2SD to increase their internal memory (though this has nothing to with the IMEI number unless you use some malicious scripts).

Rooting and flashing of custom ROMs may tamper with the IMEI and totally wipe it out (many times plus the basebands) if you wipe everything or flash using another device’s firmware. In either case, the EFS (you see in the above error codes the EFS can’t be located?) is wiped thus all the issues that arise including a missing IMEI number. Still, if you find yourself in such a situation, this is totally reversible and you can gain your IMEI number again.

Why all this information?

Well this is to remove any doubt from the doubters that rooted devices or Android devices running custom ROMs will be locked out as CCK cracks the whip on counterfeit devices. More so to my fellow tweeps, this is because I cannot explain certain things in just 140 characters. I have tried so much not to sound too technical and lose any reader in the process so most nitty gritties have been left out. Fear not, worry not and panic not!

Feel free to correct any part of this article that has misleading information or is ambiguous. I have just used my limited knowledge of the devices I have at my disposal and the few things I learn in class to rule out the many assumptions and false rumours people are making. In the process, I may have been carried away and veered off the road.

 

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About Emmanuel Chenze

Student of life, tech & social media enthusiast and blogger. I love gadgets, isn't that obvious? When I'm not on my Droid reading something or tweeting, I'm hunched over my computer doing my classwork and checking out the latest in tech. Basically, I have no life besides gadgets :)

  • mmnjug ™

    Informative. At least now we understand this issue. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/_Iswaema _iswaema™

    my idiot is still working; (ICS ideos)..i guess no problem with this custom ROMs

  • kenyandevelopers

    very useful information.

  • Kaka

    How can i unlock a Huawei U8180 without loosing the IMEI?

  • earth walker

    how do i root lg e400?

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