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How to boost your phone's slow data connection or poor signal strength

Here are some tricks to try when your Android phone or iPhone is having reception issues.

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Angela Lang/CNET

It's incredibly frustrating when your phone won't load web pages, send messages or Facebook won't refresh -- especially when you're in an area you know has a strong cellular signal. Wireless networks are complicated, and there are numerous factors that can cause coverage hiccups and signal issues. Sometimes it's the carrier, other times it's your phone.

The tried-and-true fix is turning Airplane mode on, waiting a few seconds, and then turning it off. But that doesn't always work, and when it doesn't, you'll need to take more drastic steps like removing your SIM or resetting network settings. 

Before you go that far, however, here are some troubleshooting steps you can take to get your phone working once again. 

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Toggle Airplane mode

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Left: Toggle Airplane Mode on your iPhone. Right: The Airplane Mode toggle on a Pixel 3 XL. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Toggling your phone's connection is the quickest and easiest way to try and fix your signal woes.

Android: You can swipe down from the top of your screen to view the Quick Settings panel. Tap on the Airplane icon, then wait for your phone to completely disconnect from its Wi-Fi and cellular connections. It doesn't happen instantly, so give it a good 30 seconds before you tap on the Airplane mode icon again.

iPhone: Open Control Center -- iPhone X-series users can swipe down from the top-right corner, older iPhone models swipe up from the bottom of the screen -- and tap the Airplane mode icon. It will turn orange when it's enabled. Again, wait up to a minute before turning it off.

Restart your phone

restart-android-iphone

Left: Restarting an Android phone. Right: Powering off an iPhone. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Our phones are miniature computers, and just like computers, sometimes you can fix issues by restarting them.

Android: Hold in the power button until the onscreen menu shows up and then select restart. If your phone doesn't offer a restart option, hold in the power button until the screen goes black and then turns back on.

iPhone: If your iPhone has a home button you can hold in the sleep/wake button until the power slider is displayed. Drag the slider to the right. Once the device is turned off, press and hold the sleep/wake button until you see the Apple logo.

iPhone X-series users will need to press and hold the side button along with either the volume up or down button at the same time. Eventually the same power slider will show up; slide it to the right to turn off your phone. After the phone is powered off, hold in the side button until you see the Apple logo.

Remove your SIM

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Removing and putting your SIM card back into your phone takes just a couple of seconds. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Another troubleshooting step to try is to remove and then place your SIM card back in your phone with the phone turned on. You'll need a SIM card tool -- usually included in your phone's box -- or an unfolded paperclip to get the SIM tray out of your phone.

All phones: Remove the SIM card, check to see if it's damaged and in the SIM tray correctly, then put it back in your phone.

eSIM: For iPhone XS , XS Max ($789 at Walmart), XR or Pixel 3 ($813 at Walmart) users who are using an eSIM -- that is, the embedded electronic SIM in your phone -- there's nothing for you to remove. The best you can do is restart your phone.

Tips just for your iPhone

Apple's support page for troubleshooting signal issues has some of the tips mentioned above, but it also highlights two things to try that are iPhone specific.

Check carrier settings

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View the carrier settings on your iPhone to check for an update. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you've used an iPhone for a while, you've probably seen an alert, even if just briefly, that your carrier settings are up to date. Those updates help the iPhone optimize connectivity.

To force your iPhone to check for a carrier settings update, open Settings > General > About on your phone. If an update is available, you'll be prompted to install it.

Reset network settings

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Resetting network settings on an iPhone should be one of the last troubleshooting steps you should try. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Sometimes all you need is a clean slate to fix an annoying issue. Refreshing your phone's network settings is another tip that Apple suggests trying.

But be forewarned, resetting your network settings will also reset any saved Wi-Fi passwords, VPN connections and any custom APN settings for those on carriers that require additional setup.

If you're good with that, go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. Confirm your selection and your phone will restart. Just remember to reconnect your phone to your home and work Wi-Fi networks.

Contact your carrier

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Sometimes your carrier is the only way to get signal issues resolved. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Sometimes unexpected signal issues can be traced back to problems with your wireless carrier. A cell tower could be down, or the tower's fiber optic cable could have been cut, causing an outage.

For consistent problems latching onto and staying on a cellular or data network, it's possible your carrier's coverage doesn't extend well into your neighborhood. Some carriers will offer a network extender, a device that acts as a small wireless tower that relies on your internet connection, such as AT&T's MicroCell or T-Mobile's Personal CellSpot

Other times, a newfound signal issue can be due to a defect with your phone or a SIM card that's gone bad. Contacting your carrier to begin troubleshooting after you've tried these fixes is the next best step to resolving your spotty signal.

Originally published April 10, 2019.
Updated July 17, 2019. 

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