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Why Is My Data Slow?

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Today’s world is all about speed. From one-day shipping to 20-minute food delivery, from swiping (so much swiping) to streaming live sports and movies, we rely on fast connection speeds on our cell phones. So, when you experience slow mobile data on your smartphone, just know two things: yes, it’s frustrating, and no, you are not alone. Many people, even those with Unlimited Data, experience speed issues.

It could be time for a new phone, and if that’s the case, our free, unbiased Phone Deal Finder can help you find the best deal on the right phone based on your needs. From Android devices to iPhones, we show you the latest offers from top carriers. Or you may need a wireless plan with more data—that’s where our Plan Finder can come in handy. But first things first, let’s do some basic troubleshooting to assess the cause of your slow data speed. Read on to find out: What causes slow data? Why is my data slow when I have unlimited data? How can I increase my data speed?

What Causes Slow Data?

Typically, a slow data connection is a short-term issue and is often linked to factors like your current location or network congestion. However, there are times when data speeds slow down for extended periods, lasting hours or even days. Before reaching out to your wireless carrier or phone company for technical support, consider these issues that might be leading to your slow mobile data problems.

Device Issues 

Whether it's due to a surplus of apps, an outdated operating system, or simply the age of your phone, these factors could all contribute to a slowdown in data performance. In particular, older devices may encounter difficulties when trying to handle newer cellular data technologies such as 5G, which were introduced after their initial release. An abundance of apps, an aging phone, or postponing software updates could all cause data slowdowns and impact your connection speed.

If you decide your phone is the source of the problem, be sure to try our Phone Deal Finder below to find and compare the best deals on the latest phones from top retailers.

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Phone Cache 

Your phone cache is where your device stores data like internet browsing history, making it faster to load a website the next time you visit it. While your phone cache can speed up your internet searches, it can also get pretty full at which point your phone cache can lead to a noticeable slowdown in your phone's operation. That’s why clearing your cache from time to time can be helpful. It sounds technical, but clearing your cache is easy. 

Heavy Data Traffic

When many people use cellular data at the same time, it can cause somewhat of a traffic jam on a wireless network. During heavy traffic periods, data tends to be slower because the more people use a cellular network, the less bandwidth is available. 

What Is Bandwidth?

A network's bandwidth is its capacity to handle connected devices. When bandwidth is limited, download speeds may decline, much like a crowded road where cars can't move at top speed. Cellular networks often experience congestion during peak hours, such as early mornings and evenings, so if you encounter a slowdown during these times, it is likely due to your wireless network, not your phone.

Data Roaming 

Simply put, data roaming is when your phone switches from your wireless carrier’s network to a different one. Your speeds will likely differ if you are roaming on another network. This can be costly, too, especially if you accidentally roam internationally

How Do I Know if I Am Roaming?

Check the top corner of your device, which usually says 5G or LTE. If it says something you are not used to or have never seen, you may be roaming, which could be why your data has slowed down. If your phone roams frequently, your carrier may not have strong coverage in your area. To improve your data speed and prevent roaming charges, you may want to consider changing carriers.

Why Is My Data Slow With Unlimited Data?

Here’s a secret: unlimited data doesn’t mean unlimited fast data. Most carriers have restrictions on their unlimited plans called data caps, which can unfortunately lead to throttling or even deprioritization. But what do all those things mean? We’ll break each one down for you.

What Is a Data Cap?

A data cap is a restriction set by a mobile carrier on the amount of data a user can download or upload within a specific billing period, usually on a monthly basis. Once a user surpasses this limit, their internet speeds may be reduced, or they may get hit with additional charges for exceeding their data allowance.

Data caps are often used to manage network congestion and ensure fair usage of network resources among multiple customers. They are common in mobile data plans, home internet plans, and other data-based services.

Mobile Data Deprioritizing 

Deprioritization occurs when the wireless network you're on gives priority to other users and slows down your data speeds. Monthly data limits are a common feature of specific phone plans and network services. These limits establish the maximum amount of data usage allowed within a single billing cycle. Staying informed about your data plan limits is essential to avoid potential overage charges and ensure a smooth mobile experience.

Why Is My Data Deprioritized?

Even if you have been careful about your data usage, your data may still be deprioritized, and speeds will be slowed. This is especially true if your network is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), which is a wireless carrier that doesn't have its own network infrastructure.

MVNO’s rely on a larger carrier's signal, coverage, and network infrastructure to provide their services. Some examples of MVNO cell phone companies include Mint Mobile, Boost Mobile, and Google Fi.

The upside is that MVNOs generally offer the same level of coverage and are typically cheaper than traditional carriers. If you’re looking for ways to lower your phone bill, MVNOs can be a good option. The drawback, however, is that, in times of heavy data traffic, MVNO customers are the first to get their data deprioritized.

Examples of MVNOs include: 

  • Boost Mobile
  • UScellular
  • Mint Mobile
  • Xfinity Mobile
  • Spectrum Mobile
  • Metro by T-Mobile
  • Google Fi

What Is Data Throttling?

If you exceed your data cap and experience a slowdown in data speed, it can also be due to a practice called mobile throttling. This can occur if you consume a substantial amount of data.

Throttling may not be immediately evident and is usually noticed as sporadic speed fluctuations, which become more visible during data-intensive activities such as gaming or streaming. Typically, these speed restrictions are temporary and last only until the end of your billing cycle with most plans.

Throttling vs. Deprioritization

You might be asking yourself what is the difference between throttling and deprioritization? It’s confusing–we get it. While both situations result in slower data speeds, they have distinct underlying causes.

Mobile throttling typically follows a foreseen pattern, making it easier to anticipate. On the other hand, deprioritization can occur unexpectedly, especially when you're in a densely populated area or during times of high network congestion.

How To Fix Slow Data 

Now that we’ve identified the possible reasons behind your slow data speeds, it's time to get things moving faster again. Below are a few troubleshooting tips to increase data speeds on both Android and iOS devices.

  • Clear your phone’s cache: If your phone cache is the issue, there’s a quick solve. In your phone’s general settings or internet settings, you’ll find an option to clear your history or your cache. Do that and you should be all set.
  • Check for software updates: If you’ve been putting off downloading the latest software on your phone, now is the time to do it. If you find that you cannot download the newest software, you may be in the market for a new phone.
  • Make sure your device isn’t roaming: If you’re having issues with roaming, consider contacting your carrier. Your carrier can help you check signal strength and ensure you’re getting the best connection.
  • Confirm you’re not in airplane mode: Sounds silly, but it’s probably worth checking that you aren’t in airplane mode. You’d be surprised how easy it is to accidentally tap the airplane mode icon without realizing it.
  • Consider changing carriers or plans: If you are on an unlimited plan with a slow threshold, you should switch and want one with premium data. Additionally, if you are on an MVNO, and find that speed throttling is too frequent for your tastes, consider switching.

Need help determining what phone carrier or plan to switch to? Try our Plan Finder. Just enter your zip code, and we’ll find the carrier that best suits your needs for your mobile devices and high-speed data.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been experiencing slow mobile data speed on your cell phone while on the go, it's probably due to one of the reasons mentioned above, and there’s likely an easy fix for it. If, on the other hand, your data speed is slow at home when your phone is connected to Wi-Fi, we recommend checking your router for a trouble signal and contacting your ISP (Internet Service Provider) for assistance.


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