Bar Hopping: Can you Hear Me Now?

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Anyone who has ever used a cellphone knows about those bars in the corner that show how strong your cell signal is or how much coverage you have. We talk about them a lot. How often do you hear, “I can’t make a phone call; I don’t have any bars”? Mobile network operators even play it up with advertising slogans like “More bars in more places”.

The number of bars (or dots, if you’ve got an iPhone with iOS 7) is supposed to tell you the quality of service you’re receiving from the mobile operator. But do you actually know what those bars mean? And do all phones calculate the number of bars the same way?

While they come close to giving you an idea of signal coverage, we’ve all been in situations where we couldn’t get a call out despite the fact that one or two bars were showing. Here’s why that happens.

The number of bars shown is calculated based on the relative strength of the signal that the phone is receiving from the mobile telephone tower. While the bars may tell you how much signal you have; they don’t tell you how busy the network is. An extremely congested network can mean no outgoing calls, low download speeds or even dropped calls.

And here’s an interesting item of note. If you placed a Samsung handset on the table right next to an iPhone 5 you might see a different numbers of bars on each. That’s because the iPhone actually takes into account the number of people using the network (also known as channel loading) when determining how many bars to show. That means if you check the iPhone 5 at a busy time of day (e.g. rush hour) it will show a different number of bars than if you checked it late at night.

We’re not sure which way is better. They both have pros and cons. But at least it’s interesting to know what’s what.

Now it’s your turn… Tell us how many bars you get in your home or office.

By the Cel-Fi Team

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