Why can't my cell phone tell time?

My cell phone has an annoying habit of having one “minute” on its clock last about 1.5 minutes or more, with the next minute lasting about 30 second or less. This doesn’t always happen (most “minutes” on my phone are actually one minute), but happens often enough to be very noticeable.

Any idea why, or how to fix it? The phone is a Nokia.


Ask your service provider.
It may be due to system traffic.
Have you noticed the time stamps on SDMB messages are behind Boulder.
WHY is the lag so annoying? It is a phone, NOT a precision radio controled watch!

Who is your provider? I never saw that with Verizon or Sprint. I’m on T-mobile now and they don’t set the phone’s clock from the network.

I like many other people use my cell phone as a watch.

I work designing cell phone chips. It has been a requirement for many years that our system (chips + software) be able to maintain good time even when the phone does not currently have a good signal. It is expected in this day and age that a cell phone can be used for telling time.

Have you tried turning off the clock’s auto-update function?

Menu > Settings > Time settings > Auto update > Off

This disconnects your cell phone’s clock from the signals sent by your service provider.

Argh, hit submit too early. Anyway, the internal clock on your cell phone would still run, it just wouldn’t be synchronized with the cell towers’ signals.

What sets the phones clock if not the network.
I have a Motorola Time Port on Sprint PCS and have never set the time nor noticed any anomalies.

The user sets the time… like with most clocks.

How the time is set depends upon the technology used for the cell phone.

GSM networks (Cingular/AT&T, T-Mobile, and others [in the US]) generally require the user to set the time on the phone. Some phones have an option to figure out the local time zone and adjust the internal clock accordingly.

CDMA networks (Verizon, Sprint, and others [in the US]) require the clocks in the towers and phones to be synchronized. So, CDMA phones get their time from the tower – no signal, no time display. There is no ability to set the time on a CDMA phone.

I’m not sure about the iDEN system used by Nextel. (At least until Sprint buys them.)

Knowing the correct time is very much tied in with how the Verizon and Sprint phones differentiate between different cell towers. With other cell phone technology knowing the time is not tied in with how the phones work.

Not true. I’m on Verizon, and I can manually set the time and tell my phone to ignore the signal’s time if I want to.

Your phone must have two separate clocks, then. CDMA doesn’t work unless your phone and the towers agree on the current time.

I have a CDMA phone, and back when I was a Cellular One customer, the phone did not set itself from the network. There very well may have been a seperate internal clock that kept “network time”, but it wasn’t user-visible. I specifically called their support number to find out how to get the phone to set its time from the network, and they told me their network didn’t support that feature, so I was out of luck.

A while after Cellular One was bought out by AT&T, I noticed my phone (same phone as before) automatically adjust its time once, and ever since then it’s done it automatically. So presumably they upgraded the network and added the feature.

Now, that’s not to say they always set my phone to the correct time. One spring daylight savings switchover, they were supposed to adjust my clock an hour forward, and instead they adjusted it an hour back. It stayed that way for a while, then got set forward an hour again (putting it on the incorrect pre-DST time), then a while later, it finally got set an hour forward again. And there was actually a day recently that had nothing to do with a time change, where suddenly the clock was an hour off for an afternoon.

Thanks for all the responses.

I’m on AT&T. I’ll try eliminating auto-update.

As for why I care, (i) I use my cell phone as my watch, and (ii) hell, I don’t care if the thing was a Transformers watch I dug out of the bottom of a box of Cheerios - I still want the damn thing to work right.


“Over-updating” is actually well known in many areas of technology to be nothing but trouble. A fixed central clock may be necessary in some networks (computer LAN, cell phone, satellite, deep space/planetary probes etc.), but such clocks are best left to thier intended internal. use. Applying a clock that is “king in its domain” to a realm where it can be simply wrong… well, f you want an entertaining read, try browsing or searching the topic on the Risks Digest archives. We’ve been logging and analyzing such real-world tech failures for Way Too Long

Imagine the havoc that can be wreaked if (e.g.) you are near the border of a time zone, being handed off between cells across the border and your cell time is changinging without your knowledge! As others have noted, you’re also putting your schedule [and possibly the Big Meeting™ ] in the hands of an Engineer whose primary interest was tweaking some otheraspect of network performance, or who didn’t notice a mistyped number.

Don’t be disgruntled by your phone network, updating your time periodically, not constantly, is just a mark of your profound tech-savviness and insight. Especially if you take the general lesson to heart and make it part of your tech savviness

If you want a constantly updated, reliable, central time source, you really have to use one that is designed from the ground up for that purpose --all the way to the end user. Computer networks use NNTP to provide times that are traceable to an atomic clock, but you’d be amazed how regularly this well established protocol causes foul-ups or network outages, because of some independent admin or machine in the path to some section of the network

Nitpick: This is NTP, Network Time Protocol. NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) is for Usenet.

Without NTP, a multi-thousand dollar PC can’t keep good time due to whatever quirk of design way back whenever by IBM or Intel. Why should I expect anything better from a cell phone that my provider gave me for free?

Every so often my Nokia phone on AT&T goes nutty and the time either goes away entirely, or shifts several hours. At least it’s a drastic change, rather than making me think I’m on time, but really am 15 minutes late. It was dead-on last Friday, but today, it’s about five hours fast.

With PCs, it’s fairly sloppy hardware design that nobdy’s engineered away. With phones, it appears to be confusion transmitted by cell sites. So why is the freebie Spongebob watch in the kid’s meal accurate to about 15 seconds a year? :confused: