30 November 2017 Issue 20 Dec/Jan

The phone fixer

Federico Cerva on how everything changed after his dad broke his Playstation.

Federico Cerva is something of a legend in the world of repairing damaged iPhones. From his bedroom in Basildon, he takes phones apart using specialised equipment after bigger companies either can’t or won’t attempt to fix them.

Over the last three years, 43% of iPhone owners in the UK damaged their phone. It’s estimated that a £1bn repair bill has accumulated over that period for broken screens alone.

Apple fixes and refurbishes a lot of those damaged phones. The mobile networks and independent shops and stalls also deal with cracked screens, dodgy batteries and phones that won’t turn on.

But for extreme phone problems, many of the retailers turn to people like Cerva.

The work is extremely satisfying. I know I’m the last person people come to when they’re really desperate.

I love that challenge of working on a phone when everyone has already said ‘this can’t be fixed’, and they’re desperate to recover precious photos on their phone which they’ve not backed up.

I don’t have an engineering background or anything, but I have learnt everything through trial and a lot of error.

Uncle’s restaurant

It all started when I was 13 back in Paphos, Cyprus, where we lived after we moved from South Africa. My dad was angry with me because he thought I was wasting my life playing Playstation so he drove over it with his car. I recovered the pieces and fixed it.

I then began fixing iPods and iPhones. I used to sit in my uncle’s restaurant when I was 15 and people would come with their broken phones for me to fix.

Three years ago when I was 18 my family came to England. I got a job in a factory that refurbished phones for insurance companies. I then worked for iSmash for two years.

Tiny tweezer

I was moonlighting doing more complicated private jobs overnight. People began getting in touch through my Instagram. I was sleeping for just a couple of hours every night. I couldn’t realistically do both so I left iSmash a few months ago.

I’ve been buying more specialist equipment over the last few years. One of the hardest bits around working on the insides of phones is how sensitive every component is. I use a soldering iron with a 0.02mm Micro Tip.

There’s a guy in Australia who sent me tweezers that have been shaved down.

The Trinocular microscope I use comes from America, and is more commonly used in biology labs.

Sharing the passion

The most important tool though is the hot air gun I use that gets to 420 degrees Celsius. I need that to remove any component on the motherboard. I use an extractor and a mask because the fumes are toxic.

Demand has been growing very fast. There are around 200 shops who are contacting me that I can’t get back to. And there are a lot of customers who get in touch directly.

I want to get some help and want to keep pushing myself and train people how to do this stuff. I love what I do, so I relish the thought of training others who share my passion.