Is it time to subscribe to a printer service from HP?

Ever since my dad brought home an...

What’s the best way of buying a phone today?

How did you buy your latest phone?...

MWC: What device highlights did you miss?

So, early last week I predicted that...

3 inches of snow brings UK to halt thanks to mobile networks

That headline above is not a quote from The Onion.

I know most of the Americans and Canadians reading — and we do have a lot reading — simply don’t believe this happens. Here’s today’s headline from The London Telegraph

Well it does. Do you remember the video I showed you recently? (“How bad are Brits at handling 0.5 inches of snow?) Well we’ve had a few more.

2.5-3 inches in Billericay, Essex, about 30 miles east of London.

And that’s it. That’s IT. Life is over for a good few days. My wife had a doctor’s appointment. Cancelled. If it’s an emergency, phone the ambulance, she was told.

It wasn’t, so she didn’t.

She was due to get a beauty treatment after that. Cancelled.

Absolute rubbish, it really is.

This is the problem with the mobile networks. They’re obviously still ‘live’. It takes quite a bit of properly horrible weather before the actual hardware packs in. But a smidgen of snow and this country is screwed.

It’s screwed because we can be. If it was the year 1940, everyone would be at work. Everyone except the folk who’re living in the mountains in Scotland that got 10ft of snow. That’s fine. But everyone in the lowlands of the country would have put on their boots, wrapped up warm and made it happen.

Nowadays any old excuse like a bit of snow prevents the majority of the population from getting anywhere or doing anything.

But it’s the connected nature of our population that makes it easy. You can phone in ‘stranded’. You can text your boss — so you don’t actually have to speak to him and let him hear your pathetic rubbish — and tell him the car won’t start. And what’s more, your boss will be delighted because the more folk who call in ‘snowed’, means he doesn’t have to get out of bed. Or bother providing a service. And he can tell his boss that today is a write-off.

Even if you don’t have internet at home, you can check out the latest ‘advice’ from concerned organisations eager to get a bit of press, about just how dangerous it is.

Clever schools and colleges that have implemented text message update services for parents are able, at a moment’s notice, to take a personal day. Too cold. Can’t be arsed. And so on.

The fact we’re all mobilised means we can deliver excuse after excuse after excuse. And really easily.

Before texting, before the possibility of being able to text/call your boss on his mobile (you’d never call the boss at his home landline unless the office was on fire, right?) you simply had to lump it. You got out of bed, opened the curtains, swore a little bit and put on an extra layer of clothing and went to work. So did the bus driver, the train driver and everybody else required to make the country work as normal.

But now the bus driver doesn’t bother. Any sodding excuse. Neither does the train driver. Or the taxi driver. Or the Starbucks barista. So actually even if you DO want to get to work this morning in the UK, because of the collective ‘fck it’ attitude — and the ability to quickly confirm this via mobile — you probably can’t get to work anyway.

Thankfully every mobile operator base station is operated automatically. It doesn’t have to have a little R2D2-sized chap inside to make your mobile work. Which is a good thing from a connectivity point of view, but conversely, a bad thing from a business productivity point of view.

So to the Americans and Canadians out there — especially the hardly lot like my friend Keith regularly dealing with -15 temperatures on his daily commute — feel free to being your scoffing…. now.


  1. It is difficult, so many people rely on public transport – and at 6.00am this morning it was already up the swanny – TFL had delays on most of the tube lines, the buses were suspended, and trains were looking shaky. A few hours on and it's only getting worse.. then there would be the epic journey of getting home, with the snow still falling it's not gonna get any better. We just don't have the network in place in this country to deal with this 'freak' weather – rain – yes – sorta ish, snow – no. Even though it has been known about for around a week, everything has STILL gone tits up. Whilst I had fun building a snowman with my daughter I still know that being sat here at home means I won't get paid today – and that sucks. I was due on site with a customer today, but even if I had got through the roads – there was no bugger in the office to work with!

    Lets hope it melts tonight… doubt it though!

  2. Some of the less prepared services I agree with you about, but this is an 18 year extreme… Do you want to pay for infrastructure to cope with cases this rare?

  3. This is all true, at 7.30 we got the text from the school so the whole family just stayed in bed. I then got up and texted most of my employees not to bother to come in. The one who doesn't have a phone walks past my house to get to the office so I intercepted her en route and told her to go home.

    But actually I've made it to the the office only to discover that the broadband is down so there wasn't much poitn in most people coming in anyway.

  4. We made a snowman (a big one) with the kids this morning. Their school is cancelled. My wife's work is closed. Sorry, Ewan, but that is a RESULT for most people.

    I on the other hand can work remotely — so here I am posting on a message board. Best get back to work, and then get best get a life πŸ™‚

  5. Environmental scientists have long speculated about the weakening of the Gulf Stream. So this winter we have had a taste of what the UK will be like when it fizzles out for 3 or 4 months every winter. Currently I believe it is quite difficult to predict with any level of certainty that this will happen, but it is clearly possible. I wonder if we can sell our fragile public transport networks to the Germans or the Swedes who have techniques for dealing with cold weather.

  6. It can work both ways. We got the following by text message and email at 7:45 this morning: “Despite the snow today school will still be open. Many thanks.” So no excuses!

  7. Two words: studded tyres.

    The Finns live with meters of snow for 6 months of the year. Come winter, everyone puts on studded tyres and does 70 on the motorway just fine. Scary as hell for a soft pom visitor but fun nonetheless. Why TfL couldn't buy some, or even better get some Autosocks for the buses I don't know.

    But as Ben points out, with 'serious' snow being so rare in the southern UK, it's not worth the investment for a few days a year out of action.

    Actually Ewan, you should be lauding this as a great opportunity for mobile to come to the fore as a remote working tool. My entire team are snug at home, going 19 to the dozen on iChat, Skype, Twitter, WEBEX and plain old email.

    Now where's my Cocoa and slippers?


  8. An 18-year extreme?! Bull SHIT. There's about an inch here max and half the schools are closed. I agree with Ewan entirely. There's a huge knock-on effect from useless teachers and the lazy bolsheviks who work on the railways and underground: if they can't be arsed then none of the rest of us can do anything.

    So.. Canadians and Yanks: come on, now's your chance to really have a go. We deserve it. We are a nation of lilly-livered bloody layabouts who prefer to blame everything on the Poles and Pakistanis rather than getting off our arses and working.

  9. I continue to be amazed at how pathetic our UK population have become when faced with a dusting of snow.

    For those of us who live out in the country, the morning routine was hardly affected this morning – just brush the snow off the top of the Landrover and off on the 13 mile cross country ride into Salisbury.

    Everything was fine until we got into town where the seemingly feeble city dwellers were all over the place!

    Pah! It makes one want to move out to Canada in order to leave the feeble Brits behind!

  10. Agree. We had over a foot of snow here – I know because most of it fell into my lap while shifting the car first thing. And if where you live is even slightly hilly even an inch of snow or a light icing can make getting your car out of your driveway impossible without a snowshovel and chains or snowtyres. and getting downhill into town would be bloody reckless. Do you risk sliding your normally perfectly capable car into another car or worse or a pedestrian, all in the valiant “Keep Britain Moving” spirit?

    People in Canada or Scandinavia are used to it, they have snow tyres, and the local authorities spend lots of cash maintaining the capacity to deal with snow/ice.

    When we lived in Texas, an ice storm completely and utterly shut the city down. Nothing moved, anywhere, at all. 5 grit trucks, 5 million residents. So Americans are by no means averse to calling it all off if the weather turns pear-shaped. The alternative is they spend millions to have trucks sitting round for the 9 out of 10 years nothing happens, or suffer everyone having a few days off if a dump happens. One comes from your rates, the other doesn't. Hands up for more rates or more expensive tickets instead of a day off with the kids in the snow? Maybe you are all offering to buy your neighbours a set of snow tyres or a 4×4?

    Thought not.

    And the comparisons with the war years don't work either. Most people lived within walking or cycling distance of their work, not an hour's drive like many in the UK do now. UK commuting is a massive daily surge in and out of CBD's, and we know that even in great weather, one points failure tips the whole thing into organised chaos. That's what happens when you run a system at 95% capacity – there's no headroom when things go Pete Tong.

    So kick back, enjoy the snowy magic, have a good whinge and mutter about the good old days and how soft everyone is now – we'll all be back to doing 85 nose-to-tail in the damp grey rain soon enough.


  11. I've started calling it that, Rax, because of all the folk who've emailed me from abroad not quite getting what Telegraph I'm talking about. Despite the links!

  12. we got blindsided with 2 one and half foot storms already.
    a total of over 55 inches have fallen here in Boston so far this winter. :

  13. I've started calling it that, Rax, because of all the folk who've emailed me from abroad not quite getting what Telegraph I'm talking about. Despite the links!

  14. we got blindsided with 2 one and half foot storms already.
    a total of over 55 inches have fallen here in Boston so far this winter. :


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recently Published

Is it time to subscribe to a printer service from HP?

Ever since my dad brought home an HP LaserJet printer (version 3, if memory serves), I have been printing with an HP. Over the...

What’s the best way of buying a phone today?

How did you buy your latest phone? I'm asking because I'm thinking about what I should be doing. When I was living in Oman, I...

MWC: What device highlights did you miss?

So, early last week I predicted that next to nothing from Mobile World Congress would break through into the mainstream media. I was right,...

How Wireless Will Pave the Path to Neobank Profitability

I'm delighted to bring you an opinion piece from Rafa Plantier at I think it's particularly relevant given the recent eSIM news from...

An end of an era: Vodafone UK turns off 3G services

I thought it was worthwhile highlighting this one from the Vodafone UK team. For so long - for what feels like years, seeing the...

Mobile World Congress: Did the mainstream media notice?

I resolved this year to make sure I wrote something - anything - about Mobile World Congress, the huge mobile industry trade show taking...