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Understanding the Bars on Your Cell Phone

In recent weeks I’ve had a few people asking me what the signal bars on phones really mean. So I thought now was a good time to put together a summary that spells out the essentials.

The first thing to know is that signal bars on smartphones aren’t always accurate indicators of coverage. In fact, some models don’t update bars for up to 15 minutes, which means what you’re seeing is not necessarily what you’re getting in terms of signal strength.

Another important point to consider is that there’s no standard unit of measurement for a bar on a phone. In fact, handset manufacturers set their own standards and use their own algorithms for what the bars really mean. So 5 bars on a Samsung device might mean something completely different than 5 bars on an Apple device.

Even location won’t guarantee a strong signal. In crowded spaces you could be connected to the same tower as the person next to you, but have a different number of bars on your screen depending on what wireless band you’re on and what capabilities your phone supports.

Last but not least, bars won’t tell you the cause of a bad signal. There are different factors that go into how bars are calculated. For example, a device may display fewer bars because a network is congested. Also, an iPhone may monitor the quality of the signal, or the level of network congestion, so the notion of signal strength gets a lot more complicated.

The good news is there’s no need to worry. More bars does typically translate into a better signal. If you really want a more accurate way to know your  signal strength, Android devices and iPhones can be switched from showing bars to displaying a number in decibels.

If you’re having signal strength issues, there are ways to fix the problem. If you’re looking for a more reliable solution – especially if it’s your whole home or office where you spend a lot of time – one of the best ways to make sure you get consistent service indoors is with a Smart Signal Booster like CEL-FI. Another solution that may be helpful if you have a reliable ISP but no cellular service to boost is Wi-Fi Calling.

For more detailed info, check out these articles where I had an opportunity to share my thoughts:

This is what the signal bars on your smartphone REALLY mean

What do the signal bars on your smartphone actually mean? We asked an expert

Having trouble understanding what your phones are telling you about signal strength? We’d be happy to help you out.

By Steve Van Skike, Senior Technical Product Manager