Increasing Android mobile network stability

My habitation/network carrier/phone combination-situation results sometimes in slow or no internet on my Android phone. I’ll talk about a hidden setting which, when properly configured, can increase network stability on an Android phone. Please read the entire post before trying anything, there are severe caveats.

Understanding the problem

I’ve had Android phones since 2.2 and have observed that they downgrade the mobile network mode (from 4G to 3G and from 3G to 2G and from 2G to GSM) when they think they’ll get a better connection with a lower mode. This is for most parts a good idea because even in 2G EDGE mode there is enough bandwidth for messaging and basic web surfing. The problem is that most carrier disabled EDGE (which essentially combined several channels into one), so 2G achieves very low throughput at the magnitude of few KB/sec. This would be enough for messaging, but there are so many apps and services a modern Android phone which casually use background data transfers that they fill up the entire network link to the extend of even timing out connections. The result is that a 2G connection is almost identical to no internet connection at all.

The stock Android mobile network settings allow specifying only mobile network mode “preferences” but no hard exclusions (eg. don’t use 2G). When the phone is connected to a bad 4G or 3G network it will then downgrade to 2G which, while having a stronger signal, is useless for data transfer.

Forcing a higher network mode

On most Android phones the service code *#*#4636#*#* dialled in opens the radio info activity aka field test. You can read more about it here.

android-phone-info-gsm1
Android radio info activity. Source the 8 layers

This screen lets you set way more detailed network mode preferences than the stock Android network screen. Depending on the phone and network carrier you need to pick a different setting. In my setup “LTE/UMTS (auto PRL)” worked; I understand that “LTE/WCDMA” should also have worked. You may need to experiment with settings to find something that works for you.

Samsung phones don’t seem to have a working 4636 service code, but the screen is still there. You will need an app such as shortcut maker which finds hidden screens and adds them as shortcuts to the home screen. The activity you’re looking for is “Radio info”. There is also an app which directly shows that screen.

Caveats

Pinning a higher network mode means that if the signal gets too bad, the phone won’t fall back to 2G, even if no connection can be made. This means that with a bad signal, phone calls will not be possible to make – NOT EVEN EMERGENCY CALLS.

The current implementation maturity of VoLTE is a bit spotty. It occasionally happens to me that while connected to a strong 4G network with excellent data services I cannot receive or place any calls unless I allow fallback to lower network modes.

While playing around with network modes I managed to take the phone offline; only a restart got it working again.

Last not least a word of warning: pinning a network mode other than what the phone would automatically negotiate with the network carrier may disrupt network services and may be a breach of contract.

Resources

Android field test shortcode
https://the8layers.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/android-field-test-shortcode/

Shortcut maker app
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=rk.android.app.shortcutmaker

4G switcher app
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kliksob.forgswitch


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