Shortcut: Overcome cell network congestion by dropping to 4G

Ever been in some crowded area, like an airport, and tried to pull up a web page on your phone? Your connection strength looks fine with three or four bars, the LTE symbol shows up, but the pages just hang…

I recently found myself in just this predicament while waiting to board the shuttle from Boston to NYC. I had my laptop open, and I was studying a large 100MB trace file somebody had sent me. After looking at it, I knew I needed to send it along to another team to assist, and I really didn’t want to have to wait until I arrived at my destination. If I could just upload it to an internal file share before my flight, they would be able to grab it and perhaps get me their analysis when I landed.

But, when I tried to upload it, I found my network connection was stuck in molasses.  The signal looked strong, but pages just were not loading. The problem wasn’t that I was too far from a tower. It was that thousands of people around me were trying to use that same tower, and we were in a traffic jam.

I’ve found a trick that often works in these situations.  To return to the traffic jam analogy, everyone who has driven in the city knows that during rush hour, the high speed highways aren’t always the best choice. Taking some backroads that have lower, 35 mph speed limits can often be much faster than sitting in a standstill on a highway that is supposed to go 65 mph but too may people are using it.

What is the backroad for your LTE connection? 3G!  (or 4G, as AT&T has branded it).

Your phone always defaults to LTE, but you can force it down to 3G if needed.  Here are the steps for an iPhone:

Go to Settings > Cellular, and find the “Cellular Data Options”:

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From here, change the settings for “Enable LTE”:

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Change the setting from “Voice & Data” to “Off”, and LTE will be disabled on your phone.

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Within a few seconds, your phone will switch over to the 3G (or 4G under AT&T’s branding) network.

For me, this did the trick. Web pages started to move, and my 100MB upload started to progress.  I left my laptop on during the boarding process, and when we got ready to pull away from the gate 15 minutes later, my upload had finished and another team was looking at the file.

I’ve used this trick multiple times successfully.  It seems to work best in airports, particularly, after you have landed and are sitting on the taxi way, waiting for a gate to open up.

It’s not 100% effective, though. For example, the Amtrak waiting area in Penn Station in NYC never moves any data on either LTE or 3G/4G, regardless of signal strength.

Still, it works often enough that it is a useful tool to keep in your travel toolbox.

Let me know if it works for you!

 

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