Why Do I Sometimes Not Get 3G?

I’ve noticed since I bought my first smartphone that sometimes I just don’ t have 3G, even in areas that I have had it before. Not that my 3G indicator says there’s no signal, but that the indicator just isn’t visible at all in my notification bar.

What causes this? I would think that as long as you’re capable of receiving the radio signal in one place, you would receive it in that place consistently.

Sometimes this happens to me. I call AT&T to report it and they’ll usually tell me one of the cell towers close to me is down. The problem is usually fixed within a couple of hours, so I don’t sweat it unless it persists.

If the indicator isn’t available at all, it just means there’s no 3G signal at that place at that moment (as opposed to even a very weak signal, which would at least show the bars).

Somebody else will have to explain why radio signals can fluctuate.

Sometime you have 2G and 3G signals overlap on cell towers. Just being camped on the network takes up capacity. If you’re idle and not using voice or data, you can get moved to the 2G cell. When you start doing something, you might get bumped up to the 3G for better quality.

You could also have cell tower issues, as noted above…or several other things.


My wife and I just bought new iPhones. On mine, I shut off 3G. I get full bars all the time no matter where I am. Hers has 3G on. It rarely has full bars, ever. Usually, it fluctuates from 1-3 even outdoors.

My theory is that 2G has much better coverage than 3G, and 3G is more sensitive to things like brick walls, other buildings, etc.