The International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI (IPA /aɪ'mi:/) is a number unique to every GSM and UMTS mobile phone. It is usually found printed on the phone underneath the battery and can also be found by dialing the sequence *#06# into the phone.
The IMEI number is used by the GSM network to identify valid devices and therefore can be used to stop a stolen phone from accessing the network. For example, if a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can call his or her network provider and instruct them to "ban" the phone using its IMEI number. This renders the phone useless, regardless of whether the phone's SIM is changed.
Unlike the Electronic Serial Number or MEID of CDMA and other wireless networks, the IMEI is only used to identify the device, and has no permanent or semi-permanent relation to the subscriber. Instead, the subscriber is identified by transmission of an IMSI number, which is stored on a SIM card which can (in theory) be transferred to any handset. However, many network and security features are enabled by knowing the current device being used by a subscriber.