Despite the advances over the years in the speed and sophistication of cell phone networks, slow upload and download speeds on our smartphones are still a common occurrence. They can range from minor annoyances, such as interruptions in video playback, to more serious problems, such as the slow connection that leaves you unable to connect to Google Maps while on the road.
No matter how much we aspire to a completely seamless experience from mobile data networks, certain common obstacles can interfere with that ideal. We discuss below a few of the possible causes of slow download speeds, along with potential remedies. But first, we need to go over some basic concepts.
What’s the Difference Between Download and Upload Speeds?
Mobile data speeds are expressed as the amount of data per second your connection can handle, the most common measure of which is megabits per second (Mbps). Your data goes in two directions: downloading brings data from the internet onto your device and uploading sends data from your device to a specific server (or to a “cloud” of servers) on the internet. Streaming videos, listening to music, and reading documents on your tablet are all common reasons to download data. Running video calls, sharing pictures on a platform like Instagram, or participating in online multiplayer games all require fast upload speeds.
What Are Good Upload and Download Speeds?
Whether you have good upload and download speeds can be measured with a speed test. The FCC’s minimum standard for functional upload speeds is 3 Mbps, and the FCC standard for download speeds is 25 Mbps. 4G and especially 5G networks work toward higher speed standards. Whenever service falls below the standards you’re paying for, it’s time to work out what’s causing the problem.
Why Is My Phone Downloading So Slow? (Eight Major Causes)
There are several major causes of slow data transfer speeds, each requiring its own specific remedy. They break down as follows:
1. Carrier Data Throttling
“Throttling” slows down the speeds of wireless data transfers. Often intentionally imposed by a carrier, it happens in a couple of ways:
- Speed has been restricted by your carrier to reduce costs. Lower-cost phone plans, whether provided by a carrier or by a multiple virtual network operator (MVNO) that piggybacks on a larger carrier’s network, often come with the trade-off of lower data transfer speeds. This allows carriers to tier the levels of service provided at various price points and to place a higher priority on the traffic of users with more expensive plans.
- You’re over your plan’s data limits. Many cell phone plans put specific caps on monthly data usage. If you’ve gone over the cap associated with your data plan, your carrier will likely throttle back your transfer speeds until month’s end.
In general, if you’re investigating throttling as a possible explanation for slow transfer rates, you may want to explore ways in which you can raise your plan’s data. Rectifying the problem may involve shelling out additional money for a more robust plan.
2. Peak Period Traffic
Sometimes, just the sheer amount of traffic on a network can slow down the experience for all its users. The load on internet infrastructure caused by a lot of users trying to pile into a web service at the same time can happen in any number of ways. One classic example is rushing to an ecommerce site to try and buy something that’s limited in quantity, like concert tickets. In other cases, networks can come under malicious attacks from hackers attempting to flood a network with junk data and crash it.
3. App or Site Is Over Capacity
There are often cases where slow speeds manifest on a specific app or website, all of which need their own share of bandwidth to function and make data accessible to incoming users. If a site is poorly optimized or simply old, even a strong cell signal may not be able to compensate for its deficiencies.
4. Data Cache Needs Clearing
When browsing online, your device will typically cache all sorts of data; storing local copies of web pages, information related to sites you’ve visited, and website cookies that help automate form entries, among other things. These caches can begin to take up quite a bit of your device’s random access memory (RAM), choking or even freezing your ability to carry out simple tasks. Clearing your phone’s data cache can be a useful way of correcting the problem.
5. Device Is Overburdened or Out of Date
If the device you’re using is one or two model generations old, it’s simply ancient in cell phone terms. It may work just fine for some operations but lack sufficient memory or processor speed to transfer data as fast as you want — even when the cell signal is strong.
Alternatively, even relatively up-to-date devices can run out of memory and bandwidth fast if it’s juggling too many tasks. Things like having too many background apps running, trying to sync with other devices and download updates all at the same time, or using outdated or poor-quality apps can all affect your device’s performance. It’s important to periodically review your apps, delete those that are superfluous, and manage their background activity to ensure they’re not choking your data transfer rates.
6. Virus or Malware Activity
Viruses or malware are designed to give hackers access to your data, inflict unwanted advertising and apps on you, and provide malicious actors with ways of retrieving, exploiting, and reselling various kinds of data. If these are operating on your smartphone, it’s a near certainty that your upload and download speeds will take a hit.
7. Firmware Needs Updating
It’s worth thinking about when you last checked with your phone’s manufacturer to see if there’s been an OS or firmware update for your device. If you don’t have the latest OS or firmware update running on your phone, there’s an excellent chance you won’t have the highest speeds when trying to upload or download.
8. Weak Cell Signal
Finally, one of the most common culprits of slow data on your phone can be your cell signal. A weak signal, regardless of the cause, can definitely slow your data transfers: a poor connection makes for a lot of resending data so that any upload or download takes longer than it should.
How to Improve Your Cell Phone’s Download and Upload Speeds
If you’ve determined that poor cell signal is the reason your phone’s download and upload speeds have slowed to a crawl, there are a couple of commonplace solutions that can improve it:
- Step outside and try to re-establish the data connection. Common building materials can be notorious cell signal blockers. When a signal is obstructed, it can certainly impact the upload and download speeds on your mobile device. Concrete, brick, and LEED-certified windows can all obstruct a strong cell signal that would otherwise give you solid connectivity and speed.
- Restart your mobile device. If your phone is experiencing technical issues that are impacting your connection, a hard reset can sometimes address the issue.
If basic poor-signal remedies don’t work or the problem is chronic, one solution to consider is a cell phone signal booster. A booster can provide significant coverage and connection improvement to speed up your data transfers by collecting the existing stronger cell signals outside, amplifying them, and redistributing them inside a building or vehicle so your phone can connect.
weBoost is a major innovator in the cell phone signal booster market, providing solutions for homes, vehicles, and vehicle fleets. To find out more, contact us online or shop now! We’ll be happy to help you find the signal booster solution that’s right for you.