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How to Boost Cell Signal: 11 Ways to Improve Service

a person holding a cell phone

Dropped phone calls, missed texts, and no or slow data connection can be frustrating to deal with. There’s nothing worse than losing connection in the middle of a conversation or waiting impatiently for your YouTube video to finally load. The culprit? Bad cell signal.

Many people immediately jump to purchasing a cell phone signal booster. This can certainly help boost your signal, but there are other simpler solutions you can try first.

These tips range from extremely simple to slightly more involved, depending on how persistent the problem is for you. If you find you’re still having trouble after running through this list of fixes, it might be time to switch providers. Our free, unbiased Plan Finder can help you find the right one for your needs. 

Note that if all else fails and you live in an area with poor cell service regardless of carrier, then a signal booster may be in order. But definitely try to work your way through these suggestions first to save yourself time, money, and hassle.

How Does Cell Signal Work?

Before we jump into how to boost cell phone signal, let’s do a quick Cell Signal 101 so you understand how these factors can affect your connection strength. In short, cell signals work by transmitting radio waves from your phone to nearby cell towers, which then connect to a network that routes the call, text, or data to the recipient. 

For example, if you make a call to your friend, your phone sends radio waves to your carrier’s nearest cell tower. That cell phone tower takes the radio waves and puts them through the carrier’s cellular network, ultimately finding the closest cell tower to your friend. That tower sends them to your friend’s mobile phone, who picks up and asks how you’re doing today. All of this happens within a few seconds.

Now you’ve got the basics down, let’s get into 11 ways to amplify your cellular signal.

1. Switch Airplane Mode On and Off (or Restart Your Phone)

Constantly searching for the very best signal is a very battery-consuming process, so your phone doesn’t do it all the time. Instead, once your phone connects to a nearby network tower, it won’t search for a new signal. This is done to help protect your phone’s battery, but it can result in a lack of signal if you move away from that tower without your phone “realizing” and trying to search for a closer tower.

It’s a quick fix to get a better signal. You can either toggle Airplane Mode on your phone, leave it on for ten seconds, and then flick it back off, or simply restart your phone. Both processes force your phone to disconnect from the existing signal and look for the current best available network.

For an Android phone, go to your settings to switch Airplane mode on or off. For an iPhone, you’ll want to look for the Control Panel to find the Airplane mode option. 

2. Remove Your Phone Case

Not many people realize that the very phone case that keeps your phone safe from a shattered screen can also be responsible for weakening your signal strength. 

This is not true of all phone cases – for example, any cases made of polycarbonate plastic, silicone, or bamboo won’t affect your cell service – but if your phone case is made of any sort of metal, or has metal clips or attachments, it can cause a weak signal. This is because the radio waves that give you cell phone reception have difficulty penetrating metal materials.

The fix is simple: just slide that case off temporarily, or buy a new one altogether. If it was causing a problem, you should notice an immediate improvement.

3. Charge Your Phone

Remember how searching for a signal drains your battery? It goes both ways – a low battery can actively prevent your phone from searching for a better network signal. 

Simply recharge your phone as soon as you're able to see if you get better signal. If you find this happening a lot, you may want to look into getting a new battery for your phone, or investing in a portable battery.

4. Use Wi-Fi Calling

Occasionally, you’ll have a terrible signal, but be able to access a Wi-Fi connection. This is not a long-term solution for bad signal, but in a pinch, you can use Wi-Fi to make important calls or send texts instead of through traditional cell signal.

To enable Wi-Fi calling with Android, open the Phone app, tap More, and then Settings. Tap Calls, and finally tap Wi-Fi calling. On Apple iPhones, you can enable Wi-Fi calling by going to Settings, then Cellular. If your iPhone has Dual SIM, choose a line (below SIMs). Tap Wi-Fi Calling, then you’ll see the option to turn on Wi-Fi Calling on your iPhone. 

Not all operators support this option, so if you can't see this option, that is most likely why.

5. Switch Between 5G and 4G/LTE

This fix may seem counterintuitive, given that 5G is supposed to be the superior network in all ways, but the truth is that the 5G network isn’t as extensive as the 4G network of major carriers – the 5G network is just too new and not as extensive. It’s very possible that in an area where you’re experiencing a weak 5G signal, the 4G signal is much stronger, especially in rural areas. Try manually switching from 5G to 4G LTE and see if the signal improves.

With an Android phone, you can do this by finding the “Connections” setting, and then selecting “Wi-Fi and Internet” or something similar. From there, find your mobile network/SIM network settings and swap between them.

For an Apple phone, look for the “Cellular” option in your settings. Click that and you’ll see “Cellular Data Options.” From there, select “Voice & Data” to switch from 5G to 4G. 

6. Update Your Phone’s Software

Your carrier’s network isn’t static – they’ll update cell towers, sometimes add new ones, or otherwise make changes to their infrastructure. In general, you can count on them to be continually optimizing the speed and stability of your connection. 

Mobile carriers work with smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Android device manufacturers to make sure that the new updates work with your device. You can take advantage of these improvements and boost your cell signal simply by updating your phone’s software every once in a while.

For iPhones, when a carrier setting update is available, Apple pushes it to iPhones directly – on your end, you’ll receive a prompt to install the update.

The process can be a bit more complex for Android phones, because there are many different manufacturers and customization options, so carrier settings updates on Android are not as uniform as on iPhones. That being said, most updates are compatible with the different versions of Android phones. 

7. Check If Your Provider Reported Outages

Sometimes it’s not you, it’s your provider. Every service provider experiences the occasional outage or slowdown, resulting in a poor signal for your phone.

You can quickly check if this is the case just by googling your provider’s name and “outage,” to see if you’ve been affected. Many carriers will also notify you in their app, so download it if you haven’t already. 

8. Clean Your SIM Card

Your SIM card is the small, removable card in your phone that contains the information your carrier needs to identify your phone on their network, kind of like your phone’s ID. It also facilitates the connection for voice, text, and data services. 

(If you have an eSIM, as many newer phones do, you won’t have a physical card – you’ll have a digital SIM embedded directly into your phone's hardware, allowing you to activate a cellular plan from your carrier without having to use a physical SIM card.)

The problem? If you have a physical SIM card, dust, dirt, and debris can get stuck in the SIM card tray in your phone. This interferes with the connection between the SIM card and the phone, leading to a poor signal.

To fix this, you can simply pop your SIM card out from its tray using SIM card remover tool – or a paperclip if you don’t have the proper tool handy – clean it, and replace it.

9. Move Closer to a Cell Tower

You know when you drop a call, and you instinctively raise your phone in your hand and wave it around? In some cases, simply waving your phone around a bit will result in being able to send that text message. In fact, there are entire PhDs written on the subject of why hacks like this work. 

Sometimes, you can boost your phone signal by moving to a different room in your home or going outside. That’s because cell phone coverage can vary dramatically based on your proximity to a cell tower.

While this method can provide you with a better signal for a short time, it’s not a long-term solution. 

10. Switch Your Provider

If you’ve tried everything on this list, nothing’s worked, and you’re tired of struggling with bad signal, then it’s time to look at the root cause: You may just not live or work in an area that your provider covers well. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider switching providers. Having reliable cell signal is a must for most modern lifestyles. 

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, as well as other carriers, offer coverage maps where you can check if you’re in a low-coverage zone. While coverage maps tend to be a pretty reliable source for identifying areas where coverage is weak, they aren’t always accurate when it comes to highlighting areas where coverage is strong, since that can vary from one side of the street to the other, and even one room in your home to the next. That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask nearby friends and neighbors whether they get good service from their provider when considering who you could switch to.

If you’re not locked into a permanent contract, don’t be afraid to shop around and find a provider with better coverage in your area. Our free, unbiased Plan Finder below can help you find the best plans from top carriers based on your criteria.

Navi's free, unbiased Plan Finder can help you compare phone plans across wireless carriers to find the right one for your needs.

11. Get a Cell Phone Signal Booster

This is your Hail Mary. If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still struggling with poor signal, it may be that there simply isn’t a provider that offers the coverage you need in your area. At that point, it may be time to look into a cellphone signal booster. It’s not quick to implement, and unlike most of these tips, it will cost you some money.

A cell phone signal booster is a physical device that amplifies the cellular signal from your carrier. Think of it like a megaphone for your phone's signal: it takes what's already there and makes it stronger. Signal boosters are carrier-agnostic, so any booster should enhance the signal for any device. Even if you switch carriers, it will still work.

A signal booster will come with three parts for you to install: an outdoor antenna that picks up a nearby signal, an amplifier to boost the signal, and an indoor antenna to provide a stronger signal where you need it. 

The Bottom Line

Cell signal is something we take for granted most of the time – until it’s not there right when we need it. Hopefully, this list of troubleshooting steps to boost your cell phone signal will help resolve the issue, whether the problem was a temporary one, or a long-term issue. With any luck, you’ll be back to lightning-fast YouTube load speeds and crystal-clear calls in no time.

Depending on how persistent your connection troubles are, two long-term solutions you can consider are investing in a cell phone signal booster, or switching providers. Navi’s Plan Finder below can help you compare plans from top providers based on your needs in a matter of seconds.

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