Staring at your phone’s screen while you wait for a message to send or website to finish loading is not only time-consuming, it’s also annoying. It only adds to the frustration when you know you’re in an area with strong a cellular signal. There are a number of factors that go into wireless networks, and ultimately occasional issues are bound to happen. More simply put: Your issues could well be your carrier’s fault, not yours.
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.
Toggle Airplane mode
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 ($750 at Amazon): Open Control Center — -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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 last year. Updated with new information.