Mobile

7 tips and tricks to help boost your weak phone signal

Stop putting up with dropped calls and super-slow internet. Here are a few ways to get better mobile signal strength on Android and iPhone.

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Struggling with poor signal is a frustrating experience. 
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The world is connected now more than ever before, but unfortunately you'll still have to deal with weak or no cell phone signal from time to time. Although terrible service usually isn't your fault -- bad weather, interference or no cell tower nearby might all be culprits -- there are several tips and tricks you can follow to help improve your signal.

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

Before you get to that point though, I want to offer the best troubleshooting steps you can take to get your phone working at peak performance. The steps below go from simple to extreme. 

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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

Toggle Airplane mode on and off

Toggling your phone's connection is the quickest and easiest way to try and fix your signal woes. For me, it works 99% of the time. 

Android: Swipe down from the top of your screen -- to access the Quick Settings panel -- and then tap on the Airplane mode icon. 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: On the iPhone, you can access Airplane mode from the Control Center, but that varies depending on which iPhone model you have. On the iPhone X and later, swipe down from the top-right corner to access the Control Center. On older iPhone models, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Then tap the Airplane mode icon, which will turn orange when it's enabled. Again, wait up to a minute before turning it off.

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

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Restart your phone. 

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

Android: Hold down the power button, or the power button and the volume down key (depending on your Android phone), until the onscreen menu shows up, and then tap Restart. If your phone doesn't offer a restart option, you can simply tap on Power Off to shut down your device, and then reboot it with the power button.

iPhone: If your iPhone has a home button, hold down the sleep/wake button until the power slider is displayed and then 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. 

On the iPhone X and older models, hold down the sleep/wake button and either one of the volume buttons and then swipe right on the power slider to turn off the device. Wait until it fully turns off, then press down the sleep/wake button to turn it back on. Alternatively, you can do a force reset: Press the volume up button, followed by the volume down button and then press and hold the side button. Keep holding it in, even after your phone's screen goes black, until you see the Apple logo appear again. 

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

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Take your SIM card out for a minute

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 phones with 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.

Check carrier settings (only for Apple)

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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 improve cellular network 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.

Unfortunately Android doesn't have a dedicated carrier setting, but keeping your mobile operating system up-to-date is a good way to ensure that your device has the latest carrier settings it requires for better network connection.

Reset the 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 a way to do that. 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.

Android: 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.

iPhone: Go to Settings > General management > Reset > Reset network settings. The next page will warn you that resetting your network settings will reset your settings for Wi-Fi, mobile data and Bluetooth. Tap Reset settings and your phone will restart. If you don't find the setting, use the search field in your settings and type in "reset network settings", which should get you to the right option.

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

Angela Lang/CNET

Contact your carrier

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.

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A signal booster is your last resort. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

If all else fails, try this

If after going through all of our troubleshooting steps, including talking to your carrier to go over your options, you're still struggling to keep a good signal -- try a booster. A signal booster receives the same cellular signal your carrier uses, then amplifies it just enough to provide coverage in a room or your entire house. 

It's been a while since we've reviewed any signal boosters, but we saw Wilson Electronics' boosters consistently live up to their promise of increasing signal. 

The only downside here is the cost. Wilson has three different boosters designed for home use, ranging in price from $349 for single room coverage, to $999 to cover your entire home. To be clear, we haven't specifically tested these models. Wilson offers a 30-day money back guarantee and a two-year warranty should you have any issues. 

With your signal issues resolved, using your phone as a mobile hotspot for a backup connection is easy, but there are some things you need to know. If you're looking for iPhone-specific tips and tricks, check out our guide to hidden features on iOS 15. And for Android fans, we have some hidden features for Android 12 as well.