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Weatherwatch: winter is the cruellest season for mobile phones – The Guardian

From killing batteries to interfering with signal transmission, cold weather can bring problems for telecommunications

Eric Frenzel, a German skier, joins Olympic volunteers for a selfie at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Mobile phones can seize up in extreme cold.






Eric Frenzel, a German skier, joins Olympic volunteers for a selfie at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Mobile phones can seize up in extreme cold.
Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

New technology can bring problems as well as benefits. Nobody needed to worry that their horse would not start in cold weather, but early motor cars coped badly. Mobile phones, the latest indispensable technology, can have problems in winter too,

The most common effect of low temperatures is to shorten battery life, sometimes dramatically. Extreme cold – typically below -20C (-4F), fortunately rare in the UK – can completely “kill” a phone battery.

In cold conditions, the liquid crystals that form the phone’s display may become sluggish. This causes “ghosting” effects. The touchscreen may become unresponsive, as a problem recently noted with the iPhone 10. More seriously, some phone screens may crack in the sudden transition between warm and cold conditions.

The Met Office this week issued a warning of a new danger: the latest cold snap might cause the loss of mobile phone signals. This is not an esoteric phenomenon of freezing air blocking radio waves, but the well-known danger of ice building up on power lines and bringing them down. This type of power cut is hardly new, but there is the risk that it could affect phone masts, so anyone who is stranded and tries to phone for help may be left out in the cold.


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