Cell phone time is off by 20 seconds

I have noticed lately that the time on my cell phone (Moto G4) is off by about 20 seconds; specifically it lags the real time so that the minute changes over about 20 seconds after the real minute change. By “real” I mean the atomic time on the Internet, which is also reflected on my laptop and tablet, which get their time from the Internet time servers.

I can tell that the incorrect time it’s getting is from the cell phone service, which I presume is Sprint. If I put my phone in airplane mode but turn on WiFi, and restart it, the time is correct, but as soon as I enable the cellular radio (turn off airplane mode), the time “jumps back” 20 seconds.

Most of the time this is not a very big deal, but it does cause some problems, most specifically with Google Authenticator. Because the 2-factor authentication codes that it provides are time-sensitive, I sometimes get the wrong code. Usually I have to wait until the minute changes (the code changes right then, too), and very rapidly enter the new code into the authentication dialog. You have to be quick.

So why would the cellular network be off by that much on the time? By the way, this is in the Roanoke, VA, area.

It’s likely the tower nearest to you and some towers do go out of sync and until someone complains they likely don’t reset the issue.

See this thread for reference.

One workaround for you could be to manually set the time until the tower time issue is resolved. Settings -> Advanced -> Date & Time… and disable the option for
“Automatic Date and Time”…that should allow you to set the time manually.

I don’t think I’m going to get very far trying to call Sprint support to correct this problem, assuming they’ll even talk to me. I did find that if I go into airplane mode but enable WiFi, I don’t have to restart to get the time adjusted. It appears to sync up automatically to Internet time within a minute or so. So that will be my workaround for Google Authenticator. I don’t see leaving the phone on manual time setting as being an option, because I know it drifts. I’ll have to check this out when I’m in another part of town, to see if the time discrepancy is limited to just my local tower.

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I did a little more looking around various forums on the internet, and see that some Sprint customers have had this problem (other carriers as well, but Sprint had quite a few). And in some cases, the time is way off. Even actual Sprint customers had to jump through hoops to get Sprint to listen to them - it always started with “there must be a problem with your device”, and the subsequent useless troubleshooting steps. Eventually they got to an engineer who “reset” something at the tower. I don’t have time to deal with that (not to mention, you need to have a Sprint logon to submit a trouble ticket to them), but I hope it gets fixed at some point.

As this is messing you up on 2FA, and it is important to you for ensuring security, you may want to Open a Ticket with Republic and provide them with the tower information, possibly they would pass that information onto Sprint on you behalf.
To determine what tower you are picking the time off of you may need to install an app such as Network Cell Info Lite

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