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Mobile data not working? 6 Quick fixes to get you back online

Easy tips to get your mobile data working again.

Alex Kidman
Sep 07, 2023
Icon Time To Read5 min read

You pick up your phone to check your email, your social media feeds or to work out who that one guy in that movie was that one time, because you just have to know.

Spoiler: It was Kevin Bacon, because of course it was, but you can’t even find that out because your phone plaintively bleats that there’s no Internet connection, or it throws up a confusing error and just won’t go online at all.

So what’s happening, and what can you do to fix it? We can’t promise to fix every single mobile problem out there, but here’s some very common reasons why it happens, and what you can do to fix it.

Fix #1: Reboot your phone

Yes, it’s the classic “switch it off and then on again” solution. It’s a classic for a reason, because your smartphone is in itself a tiny computer, and sometimes just refreshing everything is enough to get it talking to your mobile network again.

If you desperately don’t want to fully reboot your phone, you can try just refreshing its mobile network connection. The quickest way to do this is to throw it into airplane mode (which disables the mobile network antennae in your phone), wait about 10-15 seconds, then throw it back out of Airplane mode. That will force it to try to find your network provider, and hopefully get you back online.

Fix #2: Check your mobile coverage

Is the problem not so much with your phone but where you happen to be and the mobile coverage at that place? It happens to all of us, and not always just because you’ve driven to the middle of nowhere before needing your phone, either. Busy areas can see serious network overloads that create the exact same problem. You can get a quick rough guide to your coverage by looking at the coverage bars and network status at the top of your phone’s screen. If you’ve only got a couple of bars, or you’ve dropped down from 5G/4G to 3G, then that might be exactly why.

If it’s just a question of being temporarily in one area, try moving around for better signal, and especially outdoors if you’re inside. Higher up is generally better, as it provides a better line of sight to any nearby mobile coverage towers.

If it's a persistent problem, then it may be time to consider changing mobile networks. Telstra has a slightly better reputation for coverage in regional and remote areas, but it can vary a lot depending on your precise location. You can check your expected coverage via our interactive mobile coverage map to get a good idea of what you should get.

Here’s a selection of affordable mobile plans to switch to across the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks that you could consider swapping to:

Fix #3: Check Your phone or SIM for damage

We’ve all dropped a phone at some time, right? Phones generally don’t like that, and in the case of the mobile antennae used for network access it can be particularly problematic because the antennae connection points often sit around the sides of the phone for maximum coverage.

Which means when you drop them, those same points could be right at the point of impact. Likewise, dropping a phone can also cause the SIM card to shuffle around, potentially losing contact with the internal circuitry of the phone – and taking you offline as a result.

If you’ve got another phone to hand, dropping your SIM into that should at least be able to tell you if the SIM has some kind of electrical issue stopping it working. But if your phone itself continues to behave problematically, seek repairs if it’s under warranty, or budget for a new one if it’s not.

Fix #4: Are you out of data?

It can be surprising to see just how much data a smartphone can use, even when you think it might be sitting quite idle. The causes of your outage could be as simple as you going over your data quota.

So how can you tell? The easiest way is to check with your provider’s smartphone app. Most mobile providers have one; here’s links for a variety of providers:

If you don’t have data you won’t be able to install those, however, so it’s worth installing them beforehand. Frankly they’re pretty handy anyway, and in most cases they’ll be accessible even if you are over quota.

If this is a persistent problem, you should consider a higher data quota plan, like one of the ones below:

Or a plan with data shaping so you can never run out, just run slow once your quota is exhausted:

Fix #5: Is the whole network down?

It’s a rarity, but not unknown for mobile networks to experience outage issues across a regional area, or in the worst cases statewide or nationally. The reason you might not be able to get online could be because nobody in your area on that network can do so at all.

First way to check for this is to try to make a call or send an SMS, because often outages take out everything, not just data. That’s not ironclad, but it’s a good first step. Then you’ll need some other kind of connection – Wi-Fi to your phone, laptop or tablet is fine – to check the outage pages for the three major telcos. Even if you’re not with Telstra, Optus or Vodafone/TPG, your provider will be using one of their networks.

Here’s Telstra’s Network Outages page.
Here’s Optus’ Service Status page to check.
Finally, here's Vodafone/TPG’s Network updates page.

Restoring mobile service isn’t quite as simple as switching it off and then on again in many cases, so it can take some time for services to come back online. What this also means is that sometimes the outage pages won’t be rapidly updated. Still, if you do see your area noted as being in the middle of an outage through these pages, it will at least explain what the problem is.

Sadly, there’s no quick fix for this one, as it’s beyond your control. Find some Wi-Fi to get your phone back online, and failing that, go find a cup of coffee.

Fix #6: Are you travelling internationally?

If you’re not on Australian shores and using global roaming – and keeping in mind the costs associated there – you may still find your data isn’t working.

There’s a couple of quick fixes that may solve that problem. Firstly, check if you’ve got data roaming disabled on your phone. Many phones will do this to ensure you’re not slugged with excess usage roaming bills. Flick it back to on, wait a few minutes and see if that resolves the problem.

The other fix here is a touch more esoteric, but it can get you out of trouble in some cases. For some international providers in some countries, you may also need to change the APN associated with roaming on your phone. Your phone network provider should be able to advise if this is a needed step in a given location, as well as how and where to make those changes, so it’s best to check exactly what’s needed before you head overseas.

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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