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Images: iPhone 3G Hardware Unlock Shops

29 year old Tuan Anh Do owns five cell phone repair shops in Hanoi, Vietnam. Due to the black market Apple’s iPhone has created, a big part of his business is to unlock iPhone 3G’s at the hardware level.

The following is first hand from Cnet’s Dong Ngo:

First the iPhone is opened up by the technician.

Ngo explains that the process starts with a skillful technician extracting the iPhone’s baseband chip 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.”

The baseband is marked with a red X at the bottom of the iPhone’s motherboard.

Once the chip is extracted, the chip’s information is exported (with a card reader) into a file. Next, the data locking the chip is removed with a Hex editor, and then the chip is reprogrammed with the new altered file. This allows it to work with more than one specific cell provider.

The baseband chip marked with a red X is extracted from the iPhone’s motherboard.

Each unlock job takes roughly an hour to complete and costs around 1.2 million dong, which translates into roughly $80. Tuan Anh says that his business has unlocked thousands of first generation iphones and hundreds of iPhone 3G’s.

The baseband chip then gets glued back to the iPhone’s motherboard.

A few interesting pieces of information:
iPhone firmware 2.2 locks the iPhone again, and Tuan Anh will work to re-unlock it for a discounted price of $50.
• Tuan Anh pays his employees $300 per month. Average household income is around $100 per month.
• He has about 30 employees and a bachelor’s degrees in history and journalism from Hanoi National University.
• If his company misplaces or bricks your iPhone, you will get a brand new one. As Ngo points out, this could cost anywhere between $800-$1200 in Hanoi. So it’s definitely a confident statement.

Ultimately, Tuan Anh’s dream is to become an official reseller supporting all of Apple’s products in Vietnam. He thinks that what he is currently doing would be considered illegal in the states, and he’s right. However, Anh’s operation isn’t your typical black market importing job. He is an organized ethical businessman who sees an opportunity and has created valuable wealth for those around him, and his employees.

The iPhone’s global dominance is growing and Apple is pushing the device as hard as ever. Inevitably though, as long as carrier exclusivity is part of the bargain, and the App Store is run like a high-end boutique, black markets will exist. Be sure to head over to Cnet for the full read.

Cnet editor Dong Ngo is spending the next month in Vietnam, his homeland. While there he will be sharing his experiences and opinions into how modern technology has affected the culture overseas via Cnet. (Image Credit Dong Ngo/CBS Interactive)

Comments [10]

10 Comments to “Images: iPhone 3G Hardware Unlock Shops”

schoolhouserock @ November 28th, 2008 at 10:09 pm
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Could this be considered illegal here in the states? OF COURSE! Not only illegal, but unethical and immoral too. Apple would sue these guys into oblivion if they were here in the states.


Aviv @ November 28th, 2008 at 10:24 pm
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What I’m wondering is how many people will think this is a good thing, versus those that believe it’s unethical and should be stopped. If he needs to support his family, and has positively changed the life of everyone around him, would it then be widely “accepted”?

My instincts tell me that he is a smart and savvy entrepreneur and Apple would be lucky to have him represent the company and its products in Vietnam.


NicoNICO @ November 28th, 2008 at 10:27 pm
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First of all, Apple would NEVER be accepting of anything like this. They do everything in their power to LOCK down their phones. But it is an opportunity for them to get representation in a new place with a nice demand already in existence. Makes sense to me from a future business development standpoint.


lucas @ November 29th, 2008 at 3:03 pm
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any chance this ethical (yeah right) businessman had of being an authorized reseller went out the roof when he started unlocking phones and let folks talk about it.


hahaOS @ November 29th, 2008 at 3:20 pm
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@lucas: I think you’re right. This isn’t the devteam which tries hard to create meaningful software for people to use. This is illegal software unlocking fueling the black market. Apple won’t take this lightly. If they had found out about before the public, then it might be a different story. But what’s to stop them from going into Vietnam and shutting this down?


Aviv @ November 29th, 2008 at 9:44 pm
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I think you make a good point here. If Apple would have quietly found out about this before the public, it would have been a different story. Now that the story broke through the media first, people are waiting to see how (or if) Apple will respond.


KLiPhoner3G @ November 29th, 2008 at 9:32 pm
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illegal, unethical n immmoral? Who’s said? Why this thing happened? CEO n COO of apple Inc must be realize n wake up from your idot n Pigs sleepy attitude Now!!! Why Nokia, motorola n Others device isn’t Facing this problem?

Apple Inc tried to ” Conquer n Queen Control ” all the worlds Consumer n must be follow his CEO bad attitude. i never mat the stupids PIGs CEO like this.Now, all over the worlds in the ‘Open Market’ businesses…

That’s WHY, Apple Inc the founder of First software of Computerise were failed n drops by Microsoft Window.Your Software, attitude is very2 Bad, really like PIGs.

For the Vietnamese CEO ( Tuan Anh ) PLEASE carry on your businesses n Good luck to you. Congratulation n i give u ” Springs Salute ” to u because you r well in your carrier. Please FOLLOW your Grandfather long long a go – very2 Succesfully to WON in 10,000 Day’s War with STUPID & IDIOT PIGs US Army !!!!


l21logan999 @ December 29th, 2008 at 5:49 am
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Wow, how nice. You get your phone unlocked for $80, 2.2 bricks it and this guy is nice enough to charge you only $50 the second time. Screw this Con artist and wait for iPhoneDevTeam to unlock. They are not crooks, they let you unlock it for free.


nik138 @ November 29th, 2009 at 5:39 am
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TA is one of the best iphone repair guys in the world . give him a screwed up iphone he will have it fixed in no time . unlocking and iphone by hardware is extremely difficult and 80$ is a good price for the same. where there is no software solution ,hardware is the way to go…


nathan c @ March 14th, 2011 at 9:40 am
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he won’t make it to official, there are hundreds of little workshop like this in China…10s of thousands of software/ hardware unlocked phones are being sold into chinese market..

Apple caught some one doing it last year at HK (september), they are fined and imprisoned.

They are all million dollar business man being doing it for ages…now crushed like a bug.

This guys is not an engineerer, nor a hacker, just learns how to do this from somewhere and started doing it. I mean look at that equipments man…not clued up at all..

To consumer he’s doing the right thing, to industrialist, he’s destorying the market…to me, he’s risking everything for posting it here online, not a smart move. He’s probably crushed by Apple already.