What does the mobile network state mean?

By Justin Stoltzfus | Last updated: July 2, 2020

The mobile network state is an indicator on smartphones and similar mobile devices that shows whether the device is connected to a telecom carrier’s mobile network.

Since these indicators are proprietary, they can vary quite a bit, and end users sometimes have a lot of questions about what this indicator is and how to interpret it, or how to diagnose a problem and change a setting when their smartphone interfaces change with evolutionary design in confusing ways.

Older Flip Phones and Mobile Network State

Especially on older phones, mobile network state was often represented by a simple icon.

Most of today's smartphone models still have the visual icon, but they may also have a text setting hidden in a control panel menu.

Either way, the mobile network state shows the user whether they can expect the functionality of the carrier's network by showing whether the device is connected properly or not. Ideally, this is shown in a way that’s evident to the end user.

Setting Up Phones

In some cases, the mobile networks state is disconnected because the phone was not activated by the carrier. Anyone who is carrying a phone and expecting a particular carrier's network should know for certainty that the phone’s SIM card was activated correctly.

For example, if the customer at a smartphone kiosk was not paying attention, the person responsible for the transaction may not have actually activated the SIM card.

Another very common misunderstanding about mobile network state involves how modern devices use wireless local area networks.

Most users know that they can select to receive and send data through a 3G or 4G network or via a wireless local area network, but some don't understand the indicators and the settings involved.

As a result, some phones may show that a mobile network state is disconnected, and work perfectly fine by using wireless networks.

If users see this, they may be confused and think that a problem exists when it actually doesn’t. Users are able to manually select either the wireless LAN or the 3G or 4G network.

Other Problems with Mobile Network State

Some cases of disconnected mobile network state have to do with SIM card status or APN settings. Users should check enabling for aspects like data roaming and always-on mobile data.

Some other cases of mobile network state problems have to do with a mismatch in the SIM card model where the phone maybe trying to utilize a 3G network instead of a 4G network, or vice versa.

The 5G implementation is likely to make this a larger aspect of mobile network state problems, as users try to maintain older phones that may not work well with 5G, if at all.

Finally users should know about airplane mode and how it is triggered, as well as what it looks like. Some types of mobile network state status are connected to an airplane mode or do not disturb setting.

This is particularly true where iPhone users may not understand how they hit the airplane mode while swiping on the phone; because of delicately nested swipe features, this is easy to do without being aware of it.

The mobile network state as a major indicator becomes a major part of smartphone customer service and end user education and awareness, which is evident from the volume of related questions in online customer service forums.

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus | Contributor, Reviewer

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Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer for various Web and print publications. His work has appeared in online magazines including Preservation Online, a project of the National Historic Trust, and many other venues.

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