The Day the Ringtone Died

More Than Million Israelis Lose Cell Phone Connection After Fire at Telecom Company

Some of those desperate to connect with the rest of the world managed to do so using various Internet channels, while others rediscovered the use of landline phones.

Pelephone headquarters in Petah Tikvah.
Ofer Vaknin

Some 1.5 million Pelephone customers – and all the people trying to reach them – got a painful reminder of just how dependent they are on cell phone technology on Monday, when a fire at one of the company’s facilities in Petah Tikva cut service to its customers for several hours.

Some of those desperate to connect with the rest of the world managed to do so using various Internet channels, while others rediscovered the use of landline phones. But those away from their desks were forced back into those dark ages when people somehow survived without mobile phones. The social networks were filled with complaints, jokes at Pelephone’s expense and demands for compensation, although some people welcomed the relative quiet.

Event planner Amir Gov was not one of those people. A network glitch was the last thing he needed with a wedding he was managing scheduled for last night. All morning, the bride and groom were trying to reach him and couldn’t understand where he’d disappeared to. “Only later in the morning did we realize there was a malfunction and we coped with it, but it made us unnecessarily tense,” Gov said.

Coordinating all the suppliers was especially difficult, though he managed to reach the DJ, who uses a different cell phone company. “The makeup artist couldn’t reach the bride but just showed up at her house, and so that worked out; the caterer was having trouble calling the waiters. It was like a snowball, but in the end, because there were Internet workarounds, we managed.”

Tzach Kara, owner of Pizza Italiano, a new pizzeria in Givat Ze’ev, said he had huge orders for pre-Purim events but wasn’t able to reach the suppliers meant to bring him the ingredients to prepare them.

“I have to get out nearly 1,000 pies in the next two days, and I was missing cheeses and sauces and didn’t manage to reach them,” he sighed.

At some point, he rented a refrigerator truck and sent workers to Kiryat Gat to bring the raw materials back themselves. When he realized that orders had stopped because of communication problems, he told his customers on Facebook to send him orders via Facebook or WhatsApp. “We got an Orange phone so it could give me Internet access,” he said. Ultimately, he added, “it was fun – it made us feel alive.”

Elad Hadar, CEO of the business consulting firm Success, had a day of meetings planned in Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva, and had been counting on Waze to get him from place to place.

“I couldn’t communicate with the office because I didn’t have WhatsApp, I didn’t have email or Internet – in short, my whole day was ruined. Only then I realized how dependent we are on technology,” he said. “Today, our office is in the palm of our hand and the moment you’re so reliant on the technology, you have no backup. Who walks around today with a printed diary? I can’t even know who I’m meeting next without the Internet, and I didn’t have Waze to get me there. I felt totally disabled.”

Along with this insight, however, came an interesting discovery. “I felt like I was on a deserted island,” Hadar said. “I suddenly started to miss my wife and think about my kids, because it was suddenly quiet, without the noise from emails or WhatsApp.

“On normal days, there’s constant communication – and suddenly there’s nothing. You’re alone with your thoughts, with yourself,” he observed. “It was a corrective experience. Suddenly, I felt like buying something for my wife on the way home. So, on the positive side, perhaps it brought about some closeness. But, boy, if someone wanted to shake up the State of Israel tomorrow, all they’d have to do is disconnect the Internet for a few hours with a cyber attack. It would be impossible to do business.”

During the conversation with Hadar, his phone came back to life. The background beeps and chirps returned and work resumed with a vengeance. “Now everything’s back in place and we’ve gone back to communicating with the world,” he said. “I just hope I remember to buy my wife something on the way home.”