Pro Tip: Force your iPhone to connect to a faster network

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Sometimes your phone won't connect to a perfectly good network slow connection
Sometimes your phone won't connect to a perfectly good network.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Do you ever pull your iPhone out of your pocket and see the dreaded E for EDGE? Or even (gasp) GPRS? Or perhaps you’re so spoiled that you get uncomfortable when you’re on 3G instead of LTE or 4G. Worse, you look over to a friend’s iPhone, which uses the same network you do, and they have a proper, speedy hookup, while you;re stuck with a slow connection.

What’s going on? Is there a way to force your iPhone (or iPad) to use a better available connection? There certainly is.

How to cycle your iPhone’s cellular radio

Airplane mode -- not just for airplanes.
Airplane mode — not just for airplanes.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

This is a really easy tip, so I’ll get straight to it. In order to force your iPhone to grab the best signal available, just switch it into Airplane mode wait a couple of seconds for it to actually shut down the cellular radio, and then switch Airplane mode off again.

That’s it. But why does this work?

Your iPhone is a little bit lazy. It will periodically check for networks, and will switch to a faster one if it finds it. But it doesn’t constantly scan the airwaves looking for a 3G to replace the EDGE that you’re currently stuck with. That would be a waste of resources, and would drain your battery faster.

Bad reception equals slow connection

You’ll notice that this problem usually occurs when you’re inside a supermarket with poor coverage, say, or on a train. When you leave the store, or you pull into a city after riding through cellular-free wilderness, your phone remains stuck on the lower-speed network, even though you know a better one is available.

The trick, as we’ve seen, is to force the phone to scan for networks, and the easiest way to do this is to cycle the radios — turn them off and then on again. so there you have it. An easy and quick way to get back on a 3G or LTE network when your iPhone refuses to do so by itself.