What do the Bars on Your Phone Really Mean?

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10.15.2015

We’re often asked what the number of bars on a cell phone (or dots in the case of iPhones) actually means when it comes to signal strength. Historically, a display of five bars was the only measure used to determine if your indoor signal coverage was strong, but that’s no longer the case.

A few months ago I was interviewed for a Digital Trends that talked about a field test for understanding the algorithms used to determine the number of bars, and why they differ from device to device. It’s all pretty complicated stuff that doesn’t really provide a definitive answer for non-engineering type users. In fact the readings can even change with every software upgrade.

So what is the true measure of signal usability? The answer is actually much simpler than any field test could provide.

There are two ways of looking at signals. One is the strength of the cellular signal you are receiving (i.e. from the cell tower). The other is the quality of that signal, which relies on factors such as noise, network traffic use, interference, etc. You need both to have the best signal on your phone. However, when calculating the number of bars (or dots) displayed, device manufacturers will use different criteria (e.g. some only factor in strength, others include signal quality).

The reality is, five bars isn’t always attainable – or even necessary. A display of two bars or higher should be more than adequate in certain circumstances.

What counts the most is reliability. In other words, if you’re using a Smart Signal Booster® like Cel-Fi, the real measure of success is if you have consistent service in all areas of your home or office where you need it.

So if your phone is only showing two or three bars after installing a booster, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only question you need to ask yourself is can I use my cellphone from any or most locations within my building without having to worry about dropped calls or poor voice quality?

Do you have signal challenges in your home? We can help you determine what you need.

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