Unlocking an iPhone 3G the Vietnamese way

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If you want an unlocked 3G iPhone, you have a couple options. If you haven’t upgraded to 2.2, you can try your luck with one of those SIM piggyback wafers; otherwise, you can try importing from a country like Hong Kong, which sells unlocked iPhones officially.

There’s a third option, though: take a trip to Hanoi, for 1.2 million dong (snicker! Also: about $80) you can have your iPhone 3G physically unlocked by an industrious Vietnamese mobile phone hacker.

First, a technician opened up the phone and stripped it to the motherboard. In his skillful hands, the device seemed much easier to dismantle than I expected.

The technician then extracted the baseband chip, the component that controls the connection between the phone and the mobile network, from the motherboard. (This is a painstaking task as the chip is strongly glued to the phone’s motherboard. A mistake during this process could brick the phone completely.)

Once the chip was extracted, it was Tuan Anh’s turn. He used a chip reader to read information into a file. He then used a Hex editor to remove the locking data from the file, and after that, the chip got reprogrammed with the newly altered file. Now it was no longer programmed to work with only a specific provider.

The chip then got reassembled into the motherboard, another painstaking process.

As a last step, the technician put the phone back together, and it looked like nothing had been done to it.

Unlocking iPhone 3Gs — the Vietnamese way [Crave]

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15 Responses to Unlocking an iPhone 3G the Vietnamese way

  1. Garr says:

    You see those fingernails? I wouldn’t trust those hands with as little as the circuit board of my obsolete asus mainboard wifi remote control, let alone my new couple-hundred-dollar-phone.

  2. janekm says:

    @#4: Fingernails like that are the best way to hold SMD components in place for soldering by hand. Seriously…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I would rather get an iPhone from Hong Kong. Apple is selling iPhone in Hong Kong WITHOUT SIM Lock and the price is HK$5400 (US$700).

  4. trr says:

    Looks like someone Decker would’ve gone to in Bladerunner. That circuit board also looks bigger than any cell phone I’ve seen, or maybe those hands are tiny.

  5. JimXugle says:

    SIM-unlocking wouldn’t be much of a big deal if carriers would charge sane amounts for international roaming.

    If I make a call on the AT&T network in the USA, it’s about $0.09/minute.

    A mile across the Canadian border, the price increases by 79 cents to $0.88 per minute, a 977% increase.

    Using AT&T in the UK? $1.38/minute. 1725% increase

    For the Bahamas (popular tourist destination), the price increases by $2.29, bringing the total to $2.38. A 2644% increase.

    Wanting to call home from Iraq? $2.57/min, a 3212% increase.

    Afghanistan? $4.07/min, 5087% increase.

    160-character texts are $0.50 extra… more than writing a small novel on paper and sending it through the mail system.

  6. robin_hood says:

    errr, what’s wrong with using Pwned?

  7. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Nixiebunny – Xbox 360s that red ringed all had BGA soldering quality problems. You could often fix them with a hair dryer over the board, or even wrapping the console up in a towel and letting it self-bake for a while.

    However, nothing worked as well as letting MS send you an improved one.

  8. coop says:

    @3, Yeah, but we’ve been waiting since July for this. Some people obviouly are tired of waiting, and know that the SIM card hacks aren’t reliable. Despite what the SIM card vendors say.

    @#7,

    If you’ve got an iPhone 3G, you can jailbreak it (allowing you to run apps not approved by His Steveness), but you still can’t use a SIM card from another carrier.

    Not a problem if you never cross borders, but if you do it’s a major PITA.

    That’s what they’re doing here. Allowing you to use the phone with another SIM card.

    coop

  9. codesuidae says:

    Interesting. Can a SIM unlocked iPhone be used on a provider like Virgin Mobile (which apparently uses Sprint’s network to provide service).

    I like the iPhone but I don’t like the service plans. Don’t care if I get data service over the phone network or integrated voicemail features as long as it can do data over wifi and the GPS features are still accurate (I’m not sure how much it relies on support from the phone towers for positioning features which evidently use a combination of actual GPS as well as some sort of support from the network).

    Course, I’m not sure you can even buy an iPhone 3G without fronting the money to activate it on AT&T first. That would be a bummer.

    I wish they’d put a GPS into the iPod Touch.

  10. zuzu says:

    Isn’t this what all those shady bodega “computer repair” and “mobile phone stores” are really doing in urban America too?

    I for one welcome our high-technology skilled Vietnamese immigrants and soon-to-be overlords.

    They’ll also hook you up with free-to-air satellite and the Nagravision keys for free Dish Network and DirecTV premium “cable” television.

    Who said cyberpunk was dead? :p

  11. FoetusNail says:

    Empires and corporations come and go, but people just keep on truckin’.

  12. Doomstalk says:

    Option 2: Wait for the iPhone Dev Team to finish their soft unlock.

  13. OM says:

    …Wait, a “Crave” piece or a “Krave” piece? :-P

  14. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    TRR – it’s perspective. That’s a iPhone 3G board, all right.

    Folks, if your local hardware shop can do this kind of work, take your stuff there. SMD component level work is not easy. If you are really serious about bypassing all kinds of restrictions you need to know someone like this. As previously mentioned, they’ll open up your dish box (or your cable box, google the R5000), your phone, and your game systems.

    I never got quite that good, but I did some SMD repair in laptops. I can vouch for decent fingernails being handy for cracking the case seams if nothing else!

  15. nixiebunny says:

    I’d be concerned with the reliability of this modification. That looks like a BGA (ball grid array) chip, which are typically soldered down with a careful temperature vs time profile to ensure that all the balls get soldered and the PC board isn’t overheated. Uncontrolled soldering parameters can lead to board delamination and connection failure.

    I assume he doesn’t give a warranty beyond the one regarding breaking the phone while modding it.

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