There's no denying that we live in a connected world, where losing your cell phone signal doesn't just mean you can't check Instagram, it can be a matter of life and death. No matter what type of phone you have or which cell phone carrier you use, it's inevitable that you will experience service interruptions, which can be caused by bad weather or even remote areas that weaken your phone's signal.

As travel increases during the winter holidays, losing your cell phone signal can cause some problems. If you want to avoid losing signal while browsing, missing important calls with friends and family, or even missing important travel updates and announcements this holiday season, there are several tips and tricks you should know.

The tried-and-true approach of turning on Airplane mode, waiting a few seconds, and turning it off again can definitely help reception. But when that doesn't work, you may need to take more drastic measures, such as removing the SIM card or resetting your network settings.

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

Observation: Although the software on different iPhone models is relatively the same, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel and other Android devices may have different software versions, and therefore certain settings and where they are located may differ from device to device.

To improve your cell phone service, try these steps first

Your phone's settings can help you get better cell service, but there are other tricks for improving reception without even touching your phone's software.

  • Move so there are no obstructions between your phone and outside cell towers. This may involve moving away from metal objects or concrete walls, which impair reception. Instead, go to a window or go outside if possible.
  • Remove your phone case. It doesn't hurt to remove any case you have on your phone, especially if it's thick, so that the phone's antenna isn't blocked by anything and can receive a better signal.
  • Make sure your phone is charged. Searching for and connecting to a stronger signal consumes power; So if your phone's battery is already low on power, you may have difficulty getting good service.

Moshi Cases for iPhone 13

Some phone cases cause more cell signal interruptions than others.

David Carnoy/CNET

Always start by turning Airplane mode on and off

Turning your phone's connection off and on again is the quickest and easiest way to try and fix your signal issues. If you're moving from one location to another, toggling Airplane mode resets your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular modems, which forces them to find the best signal in the area.

Android: Swipe down from the top of the screen – to access the Quick Settings panel – and tap the Airplane mode icon. Wait for your phone to completely disconnect from Wi-Fi and cellular connections. This doesn't happen instantly, so wait a good 15 seconds before tapping the Airplane mode icon again.

IPhone: On the iPhone, you can access Airplane mode from the Control Center, but this varies depending on the model of iPhone 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. Then tap the Airplane mode icon, which will turn orange when turned on. Again, wait up to 15 seconds before turning it off.

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Left: Toggle Airplane mode on your iPhone. Right: Airplane mode is toggled 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 issues like network connection by simply restarting them.

Android: Press and hold the power button or power button and volume down key (depending on your Android phone) until the on-screen menu appears and tap Restart. If your phone doesn't offer a restart option, just tap To switch off to turn off the device and boot it back up with the power button.

iPhone: On iPhone Wait until it turns off completely and press the sleep/wake button to turn it back on.

Alternatively, you can hard reset your iPhone: press the volume up button, followed by the volume down button, then press and hold the side button. Keep holding it after the phone screen goes black and until you see the Apple logo appear again.

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

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

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Remove the SIM card from the phone

Another troubleshooting step that may help is to remove the SIM card, if your phone has one, and put it back in with the phone turned on. If the SIM card is dirty, clean it. If it has a physical defect, it may need to be replaced.

You'll need a SIM card tool – usually included in the phone box – or an unfolded paper clip or sewing needle to remove the SIM tray from the phone.

All phones: Remove the SIM card, check whether it is damaged and positioned correctly in the SIM tray, and put it back into the phone.

for example: for phones with eSIM – i.e. a built-in electronic SIM on your phone – there is nothing for you to remove. The best you can do is restart your phone.

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Removing and putting the SIM card back into the phone takes just a few seconds.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Check your carrier settings (and update your software)

Cellular carriers frequently send carrier settings updates to help improve connectivity for calling, data, and messaging on their networks. While this feature is available on all iPhone models, it's not universal on Android, so you may not find your carrier settings if you don't have a compatible phone.

iPhone: Carrier updates should appear and you can update from the pop-up message that appears. To force your iPhone to check for an update in your carrier settings, go to settings > In general > About In your cellphone. 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 will have to open the Settings app and type “carrier settings” to find possible updates. Under Supported Pixels, go to settings > Network and Internet > InternetTap the gear next to your carrier's name and tap Carrier 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 connectivity issue. Updating your phone's network settings is one way to do this. But be warned: resetting your network settings will also reset all saved Wi-Fi passwords, VPN connections, and custom APN settings for carriers that require additional configuration.

Android: In the Settings app, search for “reset” or more specifically “reset network settings” and tap the setting. On Pixel 6 Pro with 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 networks.

iPhone: Go to settings > Transfer or reset iPhone > Restart > Reset Network Settings. The next page will warn you that resetting your network settings will reset your Wi-Fi, mobile data, and Bluetooth settings. Touch Reset Network Settings and your phone will restart.

Network Settings on iOS and Android Network Settings on iOS and Android

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

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Contact your telephone operator

Sometimes unexpected signal issues can be attributed to issues with your wireless carrier. A cell tower may go down or the tower's fiber optic cable may have been severed, causing an outage.

For consistent issues connecting or staying connected to a cellular or data network, it's possible that your carrier's coverage doesn't extend well to your neighborhood. To help, some carriers offer a network extender—a device that acts like a small wireless tower that relies on your Internet connection, such as AT&T MicroCell or T-Mobile Personal CellSpot.

Other times, a new signal problem could be due to a defect in the phone or a damaged SIM card. Contacting your carrier to begin troubleshooting after trying these fixes is the next best step to resolving your spotty signal.

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Sometimes contacting your carrier is the only way to resolve signal issues.

Angela Lang/CNET

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

If after going through all the troubleshooting steps, including talking to your carrier to review your options, you're still struggling to maintain a good signal, try a booster. A signal booster takes the same cell signal your carrier uses and then amplifies it just enough to provide coverage in one room or your entire home.

The big disadvantage here is the cost. Wilson has three different boosters designed for home use, with prices ranging from $349 for single room coverage up 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 if you have any problems with their products.

With your signal issues resolved, it's easy to use your phone as a mobile hotspot for a backup connection, 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 in iOS 16. And for Android fans, we've got some hidden features for Android 12 also.



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