If you’re curious about how fast your mobile data plan is and whether you’re getting anywhere near the “up to X Mbps!” promises your mobile provider is advertising, it’s pretty simple to conduct some free tests with your phone find out. Here’s how, what to be aware of, and what to do about slow results.
Why Test Your Phone’s Mobile Internet Speed?
There are plenty of good reasons to run a speed test on your mobile device. The first one most people think of, and perhaps why you sought out this article, is simply to see if the speeds you’re getting align with what your mobile provider advertises.
But there are lots of other reasons to run a speed test now and then on your mobile device, independent of checking to see if you’re getting your money’s worth. You might run a few speed tests in your home to locate the strongest cell signal location. If you’re using your phone as a mobile hotspot, for instance, you’ll be much happier if it’s in a location where it consistently gets 25 Mbps instead of 2 Mbps.
And if you’re apartment shopping and rely heavily on your phone’s data plan, it would be very wise to run a few speed tests around the location of any apartment you’re looking at to ensure your mobile provider delivers a strong signal with high speeds at that location. If not, you might consider a different apartment or switching providers.
The same goes for running the tests at any location you plan to remote work. After years and years of using Sprint and then Ting (an MVNO that used to rely on the Sprint network, but now uses Verizon and T-Mobile networks), I ended up switching to Cricket (an MVNO that uses AT&T networks). Before the switch, I was getting dial-up level speed test results in the area I wanted to remote work. After the switch, I could get a strong enough connection to tether multiple devices.
And independent of testing the overall speed of a connection at any given location (or even within areas of your home), it’s useful to rule out other issues. Is Instagram acting up, or is it your mobile data connection? Is Netflix actually down, or is your connection poor enough that you’re doomed to buffer no matter what video service you choose? A speed test can establish whether it’s an app or an overall connection issue.
Follow These Best Practices for Speed Testing Your Phone
Just like there are best practices for conducting a speed test on your home broadband connection, there are best practices for testing your mobile data connection too.
Before we jump into how to test your connection in the next section, let’s first look at how to get accurate and useful tests.
Don’t Test While Streaming or Using Other Data
When you speed-test your home’s broadband connection, it’s important to stop all bandwidth-consuming activities while conducting the test. It’s even more important to do so when conducting a test on your mobile device because mobile data is usually a lot slower, and any activity is more likely to skew the results significantly.
Stop streaming Spotify or any other audio like podcasts or YouTube Music. Stop any video streams you’re listening to in the background. If you’re in the middle of downloading updates or uploading backup files, wait for the process to finish.
Conduct Multiple Measurements
Home broadband speed tests are usually fairly consistent. If you speed-test your connection at 300 Mbps down and 40 Mbps up, you can run those tests over and over again without a whole lot of variation.
Mobile data is a lot fussier due to the nature of the cellular network and your phone’s hardware. Unlike your home internet connection that (for most folks) is coming over a wire or fiber, to a fixed location in the house and is not particularly vulnerable to outside variables, your phone connection certainly is.
The way you’re holding your phone, the location of the phone within your home, the load on the nearest cell tower it is connected to, and more can all influence the results. By conducting multiple tests, you can smooth out the “bumps” those variables introduce to get a clearer picture.
Test at Different Times of the Day
The density of users per cell tower site greatly influences the performance for everyone connected to that tower. You may find significant variability between tests conducted in the morning, afternoon, and evening (as well as whether the test is conducted on a weekday or weekend).
Ideally, you’ll get consistent results regardless of the time of day, but it’s worth testing at multiple times to get a better sense of your connection speed. This information is also useful if you’re considering switching providers. A mobile provider that always has slower speeds right at the time you want to use the network isn’t ideal.
Use Multiple Speed Test Sites
For the most part, speed test sites offer very similar results when run on home broadband connections. But the same can’t be said for mobile data speed tests (even when they use the same speed test services).
Mobile data providers do much more traffic shaping and throttling than home broadband providers do. You may find, for example, that any speed tests run using the Fast.com speed test always come in on the low side.
That might seem like an odd anomaly until you consider that the Fast.com service is run by Netflix using Netflix infrastructure, and many mobile providers throttle Netflix speeds (especially on budget plans).
Measure Inside and Outside Your Home
Obviously, you want the best experience where you use your phone. And if that’s sprawled on the couch watching video reels after work then that’s where, ideally, you’ll get a good signal.
But it’s worth moving around your home when conducting multiple speed test measurements. You’ll likely find that the test results vary significantly. In my home, for example, my phone tests at a sad 1.5-2 Mbps when I’m sitting in my office on the north side of the house. But if I run the same test using the same tools in the south-facing rear foyer of the house, I’ll consistently get around 30-35 Mbps—because the closest tower with the strongest signal is on that side of the house.
Remember, the same basic principles of radio interference that apply to Wi-Fi signals and getting a better connection also apply to mobile data connections. Speed testing by a window on the side of your home nearest the cell tower will give better results than running the test in the basement utility room.
How to Test Your Phone’s Internet Speed
Running a speed test on your phone is pretty straightforward. Before we dig in, though, there is one important thing worth noting.
When you speed test your phone’s cellular data connection, you use cellular data. Historically some mobile providers exempted speed test data from their data caps, but it was uncommon in the past and rarely done today.
Unless your mobile provider has expressly told you that speed test data from a specific speed test site is exempt from your data cap, you should assume the speed test data will count against your monthly data allotment. Depending on the speed test site, bandwidth consumption per test can be as little as 10-20 MB or as high as hundreds of MB of data.
Disconnect from Any Wi-Fi Networks
It goes without saying, but it’s easy to overlook: make sure you disconnect from any nearby Wi-Fi networks. If you don’t, you’ll be speed-testing your home broadband (or the broadband connection at the coffee shop) instead of your mobile data connection.
And while discussing speed tests, Wi-Fi, and smartphones, here’s an extra tip. The next time you’re running a speed test on your home broadband connection, skip using your phone to run the speed test. Using a Wi-Fi device to test your broadband connection does as much to test the device as it does to test the connection, and the results will be inaccurate.
Run an App-Based Speed Test
You can use multiple Android and iPhone smartphone apps for speed tests. Here are some of the more popular and useful options with links to the apps on the respective app stores:
Speedtest by Ookla (Android/iPhone) — Speedtest is a classic speed test option, and if you don’t have the app on your phone, there’s no time like the present. The app mirrors the design of the desktop web-based test and includes test logs.
It also includes additional useful features such as a video test and a status log for popular internet services and destinations. The video test puts your mobile connection through the paces and suggests the optimal resolution for smooth video playback. And the status log uses DownDetector to show issues with popular services—very useful for checking if the issue is your connection or the service you’re trying to use.
Fast.com (Android/iPhone) — If you like the super lightweight look and feel of the Fast.com speed test, you can get it in app form on your device. Remember that the Fast.com test is best suited for testing Netflix performance on your mobile network and should be used as a companion (and not primary) speed test.
Opensignal (Android/iPhone) — Opensignal is an independent network testing organization that catalogs speed test results for ISPs and mobile providers around the globe. The mobile app is polished, includes test logging, and includes a video playback test. The video playback test loads a 720p video, monitors it for load time and buffering, and provides a playback quality rating.
FCC Speed Test App (Android/iPhone) — The FCC Speed Test App functions similarly to the rest of the speed test apps here, with two notable and interesting exceptions. You can, optionally, enter your name and email address to participate in “Challenge Speed Tests” where you submit your speedtest data to the FCC to contribute to its National Broadband Map project (which makes an appearance in our guide to finding the fastest ISP in your area).
Slow tests will be sent to the responsible mobile provider for review. And the FCC app has a settings option where you can limit how much data the app will use in a given month to ensure you’re not burning up too much data with tests.
Run a Web-Based Speed Test
If you don’t want to install an app or, because of workplace or school restrictions, you can’t install anything on your device, you’re not out of luck.
In the past, running a speed test in a mobile browser on your smartphone would have been a seriously lackluster experience. But these days, you can run a speedy and lightweight HTML5-based speed test right in your mobile browser that will provide results on par with a dedicated app.
Here are some web-based tests that work well in mobile browsers. You can click on the name of any of the entries below to load the speed test in your mobile browser.
MeasurementLab.net — If you search for “speed test” in Google, you’ll see a built-in speed test at the top of the screen you can run immediately from your browser. Under the hood, that speed test is hosted and run by MeasurementLab.net, an open-source global internet monitoring consortium. You can load it through Google or visit the MeasurementLab.net test directly.
OpenSpeedTest — Another very lightweight but robust HTML5-based speed test is OpenSpeedTest. Load it up in any modern mobile web browser and get
Fast.com — The Fast.com interface is so simple you’ll notice little difference between using it on your desktop computer, with the mobile app, or in a mobile browser. Like the app, there is no logging, and it’s best used as a secondary test when you’re particularly interested in Netflix’s performance.
Speedtest.net — You can access a pared-down version of the popular Ookla Speedtest.net test on their site (although the app provides a much better experience). Curiously, the mobile HTML5 version of the speed test only measures download speed and not upload—but the download test results in the browser match the results in the app, so at least it’s consistent.
What Can You Do About Slow Mobile Speed Test Results?
You’ve run a test or two, and the results are lackluster. Now what? Unfortunately, fixing mobile data speed issues isn’t quite as easy as fixing common Wi-Fi problems. There are still a few things worth investigating, however.
Focus on Experience, Not Results
If you’re paying for a specific premium tier to get premium speeds, by all means, you should be upset if you’re not getting those speeds.
But generally, it’s best not to get overly focused on speed test results. Instead, focus on your actual experience using the phone. If you look at the speed test results and think “Well that seems really slow and bad,” but your social media apps run just fine, YouTube videos or Instagram reels don’t stutter or lag, and when you’re actually using the mobile data you really don’t have much to complain about, then the speed test results are largely irrelevant.
Most people overestimate how much download bandwidth they need for common activities, but even a stable and sustained 5 Mbps connection can handle nearly everything you throw at it. That’s why we encourage people to give it some serious thought before upgrading to a more expensive broadband package. If the slow results are impacting your experience with your phone, though, keep reading.
Consider Your Phone’s Age
If local cellular coverage is bad for everyone, upgrading to the newest flagship phone isn’t going to help much. But if you’ve noticed friends and family using the same mobile provider have a better experience on newer phones, it’s time to consider upgrading.
A new iPhone or Android phone won’t create bandwidth that isn’t there any more than buying a premium router will turn an old DSL connection into a fiber line. But a combination of improved cellular hardware and overall faster hardware can make the experience of using the phone a lot more pleasant.
Contact Your Mobile Provider
If the speeds you’re getting seem significantly outside of the expected speeds for your location, contact your mobile provider and request assistance.
Calling up your provider (be it for your mobile phone or internet) might seem like a futile exercise, but sometimes you might find they need to update something on their end or have instructions for you to force an update on your side to improve your connection speed. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that updating the carrier settings for your cellular connection fixes your problems.
Consider a Signal Booster
If you get a decent signal with decent speeds outside of your home but inside your home you have slow speeds and frequently dropped calls, you might consider installing a signal booster to improve the cellular signal in your home.
Unlike the silly signal “boosting” stickers or stick-on antennas people put on their cars, a proper signal booster actually improves coverage inside your home by taking the signal from outside the home and repeating it (like a Wi-Fi repeater) inside the home. A signal booster will run you $200-600, like this SureCall booster. Before you buy, give your mobile provider a call. Some providers offer steep discounts on boosters, and some will loan you a booster you can return if/when you cancel your service, so it’s worth a call.
It’s not a solution we’d recommend for everyone, but if you live in a location where the cell tower signal is strong enough to give you a solid connection outside your home in your yard but not inside your home, it’s worth investigating.
Switch Mobile Providers
If you have a new phone with up-to-date hardware, you’re tired of the slow speeds, and you have the option to switch providers and get a new cell phone plan, that might be the only choice you have to get out of the mobile data slow lane.
Remember that you may not need to switch to an entirely new network but just to a different provider that uses the same network. If you use an MVNO that resells AT&T mobile network space, for example, you may find that you have great signal strength in your location, but your budget plan through the MVNO restricts your speed. Upgrading to a new plan with that MVNO or switching to the host company (AT&T) will ensure you keep that good signal strength but get better download speeds.
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