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Why Are My 3G or 4G Speeds So Slow?

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Friday, 28 December 2012


The mobile broadband experts at 3Gstore/EVDOinfo answer countless questions from our customers and from the EVDO Forums community every day - from general mobile broadband questions ("what the heck does 3G mean?") to specific questions about products to more advanced inquiries about what one can do with their mobile broadband service. The "mobile broadband FAQ" series addresses these questions in depth one FAQ at a time. To view ALL of the FAQs we've addressed in this series, visit EVDOinfo.com/faq.

 

Why Are My 3G or 4G Speeds So Slow?

It's a complaint we hear fairly often at 3Gstore from folks using 3G or 4G USB modems, hotspots/Jetpacks, or smartphones: why are my speeds so slow...and is it possible to improve the situation? There are a variety of reasons why 3G or 4G data speeds may be less than stellar, and each one requires a different solution. 

Before assuming there's a problem, though, make sure you understand the realistic capabilities of your service. Providers operate a variety of different networks that are capable of providing different speeds, and your performance may actually be right in line with what the network you're using can handle. Below are the average speeds most users can expect from the major carriers (assuming you are in a good coverage area and the tower isn't overloaded; see below for more info on those issues):

  • VERIZON:
    • 2G 1xRTT (shows up as "1x" on your phone or device): 50-100kbps download and upload with bursts to 144 kbps
    • 3G EVDO Rev-A (shows up as "Ev" or "3G" on your phone or device): 600-1400kbps download with bursts to 3Mbps, 200-800kbps upload with bursts to 1.8Mbps
    • 4G LTE (shows up as "LTE" on your phone or device): 5-12Mbps download with bursts up to 20Mbps, 2-5Mbps upload
  • SPRINT:
    • 2G 1xRTT (shows up as "1x" on your phone or device): 50-100kbps download and upload with bursts to 144 kbps
    • 3G EVDO Rev-A (shows up as "Ev" or "3G" on your phone or device): 600-1400kbps download with bursts to 3Mbps, 200-800kbps upload with bursts to 1.8Mbps
    • 4G WiMAX (shows up as "4G" on your phone or device): 3-6Mbps download with bursts up to 10Mbps, up to 1Mbp upload
    • 4G LTE (shows up as "LTE" on your phone or device): 5-12Mbps download with bursts up to 20Mbps, 2-5Mbps upload
  • AT&T/US Cellular:
    • 2G EDGE (shows up as "E" on your phone or device): 50-100kbps download and upload with bursts to 144 kbps
    • 3G HSPA (shows up as "3G" on your phone or device): 700-1700kbps download with bursts to 3Mbps, 500-1200kbps upload
    • 4G HSPA+ (shows up as "4G" on your phone or device): 2-6Mbps download with bursts up to 10Mbps, up to 1Mbp upload
    • 4G LTE (shows up as "LTE" on your phone or device): 5-12Mbps download with bursts up to 20Mbps, 2-5Mbps upload
  • T-Mobile/MetroPCS:
    • 2G EDGE (shows up as "E" on your phone or device): 50-100kbps download and upload with bursts to 144 kbps
    • 3G HSPA (shows up as "3G" on your phone or device): 700-1700kbps download with bursts to 3Mbps, 500-1200kbps upload
    • 4G HSPA+ (shows up as "4G" on your phone or device): 2-6Mbps download with bursts up to 10Mbps, up to 1Mbp upload

If you're not sure what your speeds actually are, use a free site like speedtest.net to run a speed test so you can compare your performance to the speeds your provider can theoretically provide; also confirm which network you're actually connected to — just because your phone is 4G-capable doesn't mean you are necessarily using the 4G network; if your provider doesn't have 4G in your area you may be using 3G or even the super-slow 2G network.

If your speed tests confirm that you definitely aren't getting the types of speeds you should be getting from your network, you can start doing some more research to determine the cause. Let's take a look at the most common reasons 3G and 4G users experience slow speeds, and what you can do about the issue:

cellphone-mate cm288w fullband omni antenna

POTENTIAL PROBLEM #1: Weak signal

If you're too far away from the tower (or if there are a lot of obstructions/interference between you and the tower), your device won't be able to pick up a strong signal and your performance will suffer.

Is this YOUR problem? Determining if signal strength is an issue is fairly easy. We recommend doing a full site survey before buying signal boosting equipment, but you can quickly get an idea of whether your signal strength is hampering your speeds by first recording your signal strength and speeds inside, then going outside or a little closer to the tower (down the street, for instance) until you find a location where your signal is better than what you had inside and doing another speed test there to compare. If the speeds are faster where the signal is better, you will know that your slow speeds are caused by sub-par signal strength.

Solution: If weak signal is to blame, an antenna (like the 9.5" Full-Band Omni Antenna pictured at left) or amplifier will help. If possible, do a full site survey and follow the info on that page to select the appropriate gear (or contact 3Gstore and we'll be happy to help!).

POTENTIAL PROBLEM #2: Tower overcrowding

The bandwidth available from a cell tower is shared amongst all the users connecting to the tower. A cell tower can only provide so much bandwidth, and the more users there are connecting to the tower, the slower everyone's speeds will be. 

Is this YOUR problem? If you notice that your speeds tend to follow a pattern most days (for example, nice and fast late at night or early in the day but slower in the evening when everyone is home from work and school) and you've confirmed that the problem isn't signal-related (by testing your speeds at home and then again somewhere closer to the tower), you'll know your tower is simply being used by lots of other subscribers at the same time.

Solution: Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about this (other than consider switching to a different provider who might have more capacity at their towers or isn't as oversold in your area) — a signal booster will NOT help. You can make a complaint to your provider, but unless they upgrade the capacity of the tower, the situation is unlikely to change.

POTENTIAL PROBLEM #3: Your equipment is malfunctioning

It's rare for a modem, router, or signal booster to "go bad," but it does happen from time to time. A modem or router that isn't functioning properly can result in slow speeds (and other problems like repeated disconnects); if you're using an antenna or amplifier and something breaks down in that setup that could also impact performance. Your computer itself could also be the problem — if your computer is infected with a virus or just generally old and slow, your internet experience will seem sluggish even though the connection is not to blame.

Is this YOUR problem? This is very unlikely to be the source of the problem if your equipment is new and you haven't made any changes to your setup recently, but if you're using a modem or router that's more than 2 years old or if you've changed something in your configuration recently (for example, changing a bunch of settings in your router admin or disconnecting and then reinstalling a signal booster), it's possible that one of the components is the culprit. If your service suddenly degrades significantly and doesn't improve during non-peak hours (which it would if the problem was tower overcrowding), do some systematic experimenting to isolate the issue. If you use your device directly in your computer, try it in a different computer and see if there is any difference. If you use it in a router, eliminate the router from the equation and connect the device directly to your computer so you can see if the router was slowing things down. If you use an antenna or amplifier, check your signal strength both with and without the antenna or amplifier connected (so you can confirm that the equipment is improving your signal like it should).

Solution: Once you've isolated the source of the problem, you'll need to either troubleshoot or replace the offending equipment. If it's an older modem, you may need to buy a new device and swap your service over to it (if it's a new modem, call the manufacturer or your provider to see if they'll swap it out under warranty). If the problem is your router, contact the manufacturer or the store where you bought it — it might be fixable with some changes to the settings or a firmware update. If your antenna or amplifier is causing the trouble, check all of the obvious potential installation-related issues (are all the connections tight? If it's a wireless amplifier, do you have enough separation between the outside and inside antennas? If the antenna is directional, is it aimed properly? If the antenna is magnetic-mount, is it connected to something magnetic? If the antenna utilizes radials, has one broken or fallen off?) and then contact the manufacturer or the store where you bought it for troubleshooting or to get the equipment replaced.

POTENTIAL PROBLEM #4: Tower issues

Providers periodically do maintenance or upgrade work on cell towers, which can disrupt service; other factors like severe weather occasionally damage cell towers and cause problems.

Is this YOUR problem? If your service suddenly degrades significantly and doesn't improve much during non-peak hours (which it would if the problem was overcrowding), and you've confirmed it's not a problem with your equipment, the problem likely lies with the tower. The best way to confirm is to take your device several miles away where you'll be connecting to a different tower and test there — if everything works fine when connected to a different tower, you'll know something is amiss with your home tower.

Solution: Like overcrowding, this problem is out of your control and a signal booster will NOT help. You should definitely contact your provider to report the issue. Explain that you used to see XYZ speeds but your performance has suddenly degraded significantly and you haven't made any changes to your equipment or setup; that will help them understand that the problem is not overcrowding or weak signal at your location. If they're not already aware of a problem at the tower they will send a technician to the tower to investigate. Luckily, problems like this are typically temporary and are resolved once the provider fixes whatever went wrong at the tower.


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Last Updated ( Monday, 08 April 2013 )
 
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