We all know what the cell bars graphic on the home screen of our mobile phones are supposed to mean. It indicates signal strength, right? As in how strong the signal is that our phone is receiving right now.
And in a very general sense, that’s what the bars (or dots, depending on your phone model) do. They generally indicate the relative strength of the available signal.
The keyword here is ‘relative.’
This means that if your mobile phone displays anywhere from one to five bars indicating signal strength, then a display of four bars indicates a stronger available signal than three bars, and three a stronger signal than two, etc.
But that is all the information your cell phone bars graphic can tell you.
What do the four bars on my phone actually mean?
You don’t know by viewing the bars graphic how strong the available signal actually is, nor how much stronger a four-bar signal is than a three-bar signal.
You may even have had this experience – your phone shows four bars, but when you try to text or download a movie you can’t do it because you have no service despite the four cellular bars you see.
The truth is, there are no standards for signal strength bars that you see on your phone.
Each mobile phone manufacturer (Apple, Samsung etc.) uses an algorithm they’ve developed to sense the strength level of the available cellular signals. And then they show you however many or few bars they choose.
Of course, that means it’s impossible to compare signal strength bars between different phone models. My phone’s three bars may well represent a stronger signal than your phone’s four bars.
But there’s no way to know that by viewing the respective signal bars graphics. The bottom line – the bars just don’t mean much. There, someone had to say it.
What do the bars on your mobile phone mean? As it turns out, next to nothing!
How to measure signal strength on your phone
To accurately measure your cell signal strength, you’ll need to take a reading of your signal in decibels or dBm. Decibels are a standard unit of measure, so when you take a dBm reading you know the absolute strength of the available signal.
dBm is typically expressed as a negative number, -88 for example. The closer to zero the reading is, the stronger the cell phone signal. So, for example, -79 dBm is a stronger signal than -88 dBm.
A reading of -50 is the strongest signal you will likely see. When a signal is weaker than -100 dBm, that’s a pretty weak signal. If the signal gets much weaker than that, you likely won’t have cell service.
To measure the dBm reading on your phone you’ll need to put your phone into field test mode. The steps are different by phone type. Read here on how to find the signal strength on your Android phone and to find the signal strength on your iPhone. It’s the only way to know how strong your available cell signal really is.
Why do I only have one bar on my phone?
Usually, one bar of service on your phone means you’re receiving poor signal because you are too far from the nearest cell tower or there is something blocking the signal from getting to your device. Some common signal blockers are building materials like concrete, steel, brick, fiberglass insulation or wood.
If you’re in a densely populated area like San Francisco for example, the issue of network traffic arises. People assume there’s plenty of cell coverage to go around, but in fact, this can slow your data down since cell towers can have trouble supporting this amount of cellular network usage.
How do I get more bars on my cell phone?
So, now that you’ve determined your actual signal strength and what might be causing poor cell signal, it’s time to look for a solution to low bars on your cell phone. A cell phone signal booster is a great solution that will boost signal into your vehicle or home so you can have a strong, reliable cell signal (and more cell bars).
weBoost signal boosters work with all carriers, are FCC-approved, and have no recurring fees. Note that cell phone signal boosters won’t create a signal if you have no bars on your cell phone. But they will boost weak existing cell signal into your home or vehicle.
Shop weBoost cell signal boosters to get faster data speeds and better voice quality on your device.