By | November 19, 2023
Moshi iPhone 13 case

We live in a connected world. These days, losing your cell phone signal doesn’t just mean you can’t check Instagram—it can be a matter of life and death. Regardless of the type of phone you have or the carrier you use, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter service interruptions, whether from bad weather or remote areas that can weaken your phone signal.

As travel ramps up for Thanksgiving this week and the upcoming winter holidays, you could be in for a real bummer if you lose your cell phone signal. If you want to avoid losing signal while navigating, missing important calls with friends and family, or even missing important travel updates and recommendations during the holiday season, there are several tips and tricks you can use to improve your cell phone signal.

The tried and true method of turning on airplane mode, waiting a few seconds and then turning it off again can definitely help with reception. But when that doesn’t work, you may need to take more drastic measures, like removing your SIM card or resetting your network settings.

Before you dive into your phone’s settings, take a few minutes to perform some basic troubleshooting steps that can get your phone running at peak performance.

Note: Although the software for different iPhone models is relatively the same, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel and other Android devices may have different software versions, so some settings and their location may differ from device to device.

To improve your cell phone service, try these steps first

The settings on your phone can help you get better cell service, but there are other tricks to improve your reception without even touching your phone’s software.

  • Move yourself so that there are no obstructions between your phone and any cell towers outside. This may mean stepping away from metal objects or concrete walls, both of which kill reception. Instead, go to a window or go outside if possible.
  • Remove your phone case. It doesn’t hurt to remove whatever case you have on your phone, especially if it’s thick, so the phone’s antenna isn’t blocked by anything and can get a better signal.
  • Make sure your phone is charged. Searching for and connecting to a stronger signal drains power, so if your phone battery is already low, you may struggle to get good service.

Moshi iPhone 13 case

Some phone cases cause more cell signal interference than others.

David Carnoy/CNET

Always start by turning airplane mode on and off

Turning your phone off and on again is the quickest and easiest way to try to fix your signal problems. Moving around from one location to another restarts Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular modems in airplane mode, forcing them to find the best signal in the area.

Android: Swipe down from the top of the screen — to access the Quick Settings panel — then tap the Airplane Mode icon. Wait until your phone is completely disconnected from its Wi-Fi and cellular connections. It doesn’t happen immediately, so give it a good 15 seconds before hitting the airplane mode icon again.

iPhone: On the iPhone, you can access Airplane Mode from Control Center, but it varies depending on the iPhone model you have. On iPhone X and later, swipe down from the top right corner to access Control Center. On older iPhone models, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Next, tap the airplane mode icon, which will turn orange when enabled. Wait again for up to 15 seconds before turning it off.

airplane-mode-android-iphone airplane-mode-android-iphone

Left: Toggle airplane mode on your iPhone. Right: Toggle airplane mode on an Android.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If airplane mode doesn’t work, restart your phone

Our phones are miniature computers, and just like computers, you can sometimes fix problems like network connectivity by simply restarting them.

Android: Press and hold the Power button or the Power button and the Volume Down button (depending on your Android phone) until the on-screen menu appears, then tap Restart. If your phone doesn’t offer a reboot option, you can simply tap turn off to turn off the device and then turn it back on with the power button.

iPhone: On iPhone X and older models, hold down the sleep/wake button and either volume button, then swipe right on the power switch to turn off the device. Wait until it turns off completely, then press the sleep/wake button to turn it back on.

Alternatively, you can perform a hard reset on your iPhone: Press the Volume Up button, followed by the Volume Down button, and then press and hold the Side button. Continue to hold it after the phone’s screen goes black and until you see the Apple logo appear again.

If your iPhone has a home button, hold down the sleep/wake button until the power slider appears, then drag the slider to the right. When the device is off, press and hold the sleep/wake button until you see the Apple logo.

restart-android-iphone restart-android-iphone

Left: Restarting an Android phone. Right: Shutting down an iPhone.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Remove the SIM card from the phone

Another troubleshooting step that may help is to remove your SIM card, if your phone has one, and then put it back in with the phone turned on. If the SIM card is dirty, clean it. If it has any physical defects, you may need to replace it.

You’ll need a SIM card tool – usually included in the phone’s box – or an unfolded paperclip or sewing needle to pop the SIM tray out of the phone.

All phones: Remove the SIM card, check if it is damaged and placed in the SIM slot correctly, then put it back in the phone.

for example: For phones with an eSIM — ie. a built-in electronic SIM card in your phone — there’s nothing for you to delete. The best thing to do is to restart the phone.

sim-pixel-3-xl sim-pixel-3-xl

Removing and inserting your SIM card into the phone only takes a few seconds.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Check your carrier settings (and update your software)

Mobile operators often release carrier settings updates to improve connectivity for calls, data and messages on their networks. While this feature is available on all iPhone models, it’s not universal on Android, so you might not find carrier settings if you don’t have a supported phone.

iPhone: Carrier updates should only be displayed and you can update from the pop-up message that appears. To force your iPhone to check for a carrier settings update, go to settings > General > About on your phone. If an update is available, you will be prompted to install it.

Android: As mentioned earlier, not all Android phones have carrier settings, so you’ll need to open the Settings app and type in “carrier settings” to find any updates. On supported pixels, go to settings > Network & internet > Internettap the gear next to your carrier name, then tap Operator settings versions.

Carrier settings on iOS and Android Carrier settings on iOS and Android

Left: iOS carrier settings. Right: Android carrier settings version.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Reset your phone’s network settings

Sometimes all you need is a clean slate to fix an annoying connection problem. Updating your phone’s network settings is one way to do that. But be forewarned, resetting your network settings will also reset all saved Wi-Fi passwords, VPN connections, and custom APN settings for those on carriers that require additional settings.

Android: In the Settings app, search for “reset” or more specifically “reset network settings” and tap the setting. On the Pixel 6 Pro running Android 13, the setting is called Reset Wi-Fi, Cellular and Bluetooth. After resetting your network settings, remember to reconnect your phone to your home and work Wi-Fi network.

iPhone: Go to settings > Transfer or restore iPhone > Restore > Reset network settings. The next page will warn you that resetting your network settings will reset your Wi-Fi, cellular data, and Bluetooth settings. Tap Reset network settings and your phone will restart.

Network settings on iOS and Android Network settings on iOS and Android

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

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Contact your telephone operator

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

For consistent problems connecting to or staying connected to a cellular or data network, it’s possible that your carrier’s coverage doesn’t extend that far into your local area. To help, some carriers will offer a network extender — a device that acts like a small wireless tower that relies on your Internet connection, like AT&T’s MicroCell or T-Mobile’s Personal CellSpot.

Other times, a newfound signal problem may be due to a fault with your phone or a SIM card that has gone bad. Contacting your carrier to begin troubleshooting after trying these fixes is the next best step to resolving your spotty signal.

galaxy-s10-plus-macro-1 galaxy-s10-plus-macro-1

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

Angela Lang/CNET

If all else fails, try a signal booster to improve cell reception

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

The big downside here is the cost. Wilson has three different boosters designed for home use, all priced from $349 for single room coverage to $999 to cover your entire home. To be clear, we have not tested these models specifically. Wilson offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and a two-year warranty should you encounter any problems with its products.

With your signal issues resolved, it’s easy to use your phone as a mobile hotspot for a backup connection, but there are a few things you need to know. If you’re looking for iPhone-specific tips and tricks, check out our guide to hidden features on iOS 16. And for Android fans, we’ve got some hidden features of Android 12 also.

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