Smartphones are now well established as the main way most of us connect to the internet. It’s a trend that looks irreversible. And it means getting the fastest possible internet speeds on your mobile devices is more important than ever.
But sometimes this doesn’t happen. There might be problems with the way you’ve set up your home router, or with the quirks of public Wi-Fi, or even issues with your carrier.
Let’s take a look at the main reasons why you have slow internet on your phone, and how you can fix them.
1. Poor Router Position
One of the most common reasons for slow internet speeds is that the router has been positioned in the wrong place. A Wi-Fi signal has a range of up to 230 feet, and the further it travels the slower it gets. It can be blocked by large physical objects, like walls, floors, and doors.
So, if you’re a distance from the router — like in the furthest bedroom in your house, or even outside — and there are obstacles between it and you, the speeds you get may be a lot slower than you’d expect.
There’s a quick way to test. The Wi-Fi icon on your phone’s status bar gives you a rough indication of the signal strength.
- When the icon is full, you’ve got a strong signal. This suggests your slow internet has a different cause.
- When it’s empty your signal is weak, and other Wi-Fi devices like your laptop should also be affected. Move closer to your router and your signal strength — and internet speed — should improve.
A weak signal that does improve shows that your router’s position is the problem. You can try to solve this by finding the best place to put your router.
If your connection strength doesn’t improve even when you get closer to the router, you may have other problems you need to fix.
2. Congested Wi-Fi
Congestion can be a problem with Wi-Fi. Routers broadcast their signal on a specified channel. But if your neighbors all have routers set to work on the same channel it can become congested, and degrade the performance for everyone.
This can be a problem especially in apartment blocks, where you have a lot of routers crammed into a relatively small area.
To fix this, you need to use software that can scan all the nearby Wi-Fi networks and find which channel they’re using. This will tell you whether you need to change the settings of your router and help you find the least congested channel to switch to.
You can do this directly on an Android phone, using the Wi-Fi Analyzer app. If you’re on iPhone, you need to do it via a laptop instead. Check out our recommendations for Wi-Fi scanning apps for Mac and for Windows.
3. Wi-Fi Noise
Wi-Fi is also susceptible to noise from other appliances in your home. Things like microwaves, wireless doorbells, and cordless phones can interfere with the signal from a router running on the 2.4GHz band.
This is the next thing to check when you’ve ruled out the router’s position and channel as the cause of your slow internet.
Most modern routers can work on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The latter is a lot less prone to interference. If you’ve got a reasonably recent router that supports this, you can delve into the router’s settings to make the change.
Before you do it, though, you need to make sure all your connected devices support 5GHz, or they’ll no longer be able to connect. Unless you’ve got a dual or tri-band router, it won’t be able to switch between the two. You have to choose either one or the other.
If you’re sticking with 2.4GHz, make sure you don’t have any other devices near your router that could cause interference. And prepare for possible disruption if you’re streaming Netflix while standing in the kitchen making microwave popcorn.
4. You’re Connected to a Slow Network
One of the most obvious reasons why you’re getting slow internet speeds on your phone is that you’re connected to a slow network.
At home, the reason why your internet is working slower than you’d expect is most likely to be that other apps and devices are hogging your bandwidth. Streaming movies, downloading video games, or installing operating system updates will all cause a slowdown in your general internet use. And some of these things can happen in the background without you even knowing. If you need more bandwidth at home, channel bonding is one way to double your internet speeds.
On public Wi-Fi, the speeds you’ll get can vary wildly, and you shouldn’t rely on getting a superfast service from something you aren’t paying for. However, even after checking your expectations, you might still end up getting a lot worse performance that you could.
There are so many public Wi-Fi hotspots, and your phone is liable to latch onto one of them at random. It’ll even stay connected after you’ve moved into range of a closer or better one. It means that while your favorite coffee shop might have fantastic Wi-Fi, there’s no guarantee you’ll actually connect to it every time.
A good way to try and work around this is to set the Wi-Fi network priority on Android or iPhone. This forces your device to always connect to one of your chosen networks whenever you’re in range, and only use other free hotspots as a last resort.
The other thing to consider is that a 4G connection will very often be faster and more reliable than public Wi-Fi. If your free service becomes intolerable, then turn Wi-Fi off on your phone and use mobile data instead. Just keep an eye on your data usage while you do so.
5. You’re Using a Slow VPN
If you use public Wi-Fi a lot, we highly recommend that you use a VPN. It encrypts the connection between your phone and Wi-Fi hotspot, preventing anyone else on the network snooping on your data.
But did you know that your choice of VPN can have a significant effect on your internet speed?
Free VPN apps are notorious for offering terrible performance, along with a host of other questionable downsides. If you’re already using a VPN and are getting slow internet speeds, try disabling it temporarily to see if that improves things.
Most of the best premium VPN providers have apps for iPhone and Android. Once you’ve signed up, you can make use of them on your phone as well as your desktop. These services should guarantee you much better speeds than you would get from a free alternative, along with enhanced security and privacy benefits.
6. Poor 4G Coverage
What about slow internet when using mobile data rather than Wi-Fi? Most of us switch to Wi-Fi whenever we can. It’s cheaper and less heavy on a phone’s battery.
When you do switch to mobile data, you’d expect a 4G connection to be as fast — if not faster — than Wi-Fi. But this isn’t always true.
There are so many things that can affect your phone signal. You’ll see it often in crowded places, like at a sporting event or concert, where tens of thousands of people are trying to connect to the same cell tower at the same time.
And there are other things, too. Your distance from the nearest tower. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors. Even the weather can have an effect. Some of these things can cause you to fall back to a slower 3G connection, and some might leave you with no internet connection at all.
In addition, some smaller carriers, like some of the virtual mobile networks in the UK, might have much more limited bandwidth. You might never get up to top speed on those.
Speak to your carrier if you have ongoing problems. If there’s no solution, it may be time to change.
7. Your Phone Is Slow
Finally, slow internet might just be a sign of a slow phone. Your Wi-Fi connection may be great, your mobile data coverage perfect, and you’re on a fast network. But maybe your phone just can’t keep up with what you’re asking it to do.
The resource requirements of apps and websites creep up all the time. So even when your actual internet speed is good, you might still perceive it to be slow. The phone’s hardware might be taking its time rendering a web page, for example, or be struggling to handle the graphics in an online game.
You can see this on older phones especially, since they all tend to slow down over time. Lower-end Android phones, with slower processors and less RAM, might also be affected.
And even if you’ve got an up to date, high-end device your choice of apps can still have an impact. Too many apps downloading and syncing in the background can hog too much of your available bandwidth. You might consider using a download manager if you use Android to help schedule downloads for a specific time.
Older or poorly written apps can just slow your phone down generally. Make sure to keep your apps up to date, uninstall those that you don’t use, and keep an eye on which are allowed to run in the background.
It might even be time to consider whether it’s worth buying a new smartphone.
Speed It Up
Internet performance can be unpredictable at the best of times. By getting to grips with some of the main causes of problems you’ll be well equipped to make sure your phone is always running at full speed.
Have you experienced slow internet speeds on your phone? What did you do to solve it? Share your tips and questions in the comments below.