How Strong is Your Signal Really?
Your cell phone’s signal strength is measured in dBm, or decibel milliwatts, a standard unit of measure. 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.
It’s often useful to know how strong a signal your cell phone is receiving at a specific moment. Perhaps you’re trying to make a call but it won’t go through to the intended recipient. Or maybe texts, emails or posts hit your in-box hours after they were sent.
In cases like these knowing your signal strength can help you determine why you didn’t get the service you expected and take action so it doesn’t happen again.
Of course all phones have the “bars” graphic that displays on your home screen, supposedly so you know what your cell phone signal strength is. The problem with the ubiquitous bars representation is that there are no standards. The accuracy of the bars graphic can vary widely between phone models, devices from different manufacturers, and operating systems.
Viewing your phone’s actual signal strength reading is always preferable to relying on the bars graphic. My phone’s 3 bars may well represent a stronger signal than your phone’s 4 bars.
Take a Decibel Reading
But there is no way for us to know that, unless we find the screen on our device that displays the actual signal strength reading in dBm. By accessing the dBm reading on a device we know with certainty how strong a signal we are receiving.
Android phone models allow the user to view signal strength readings by navigating the device’s menu tree. For iPhones, finding the decibel reading is a bit more complicated.
In this post I’ll cover Android device signal strength readings. I’ll discuss accessing the dBm reading on iPhones in a future post.
How to Find Your dBm screen
Finding dBm menu screen varies across device manufacturers, phone models and versions of Android OS. A typical navigation sequence is:
Settings –> About Phone –> Status (or Network) On this screen, view Signal Strength (or Network Type and Strength).
An alternate nav sequence for some Android phones is:
Settings –> More Options (or More Settings) –> About Phone –> Mobile Networks On this screen, view Signal Strength.
Some experimenting with the menus on your Android phone should get you to the dBm reading. If after following the instructions above you still can’t see your phone’s signal strength reading, check the operations guide that came with your device.
Alternatively use a search engine to find the term Signal Strength Reading or Field Test Mode, and be sure to include your specific phone model in the inquiry field.
More About dBm Readings
A couple of other important points. dBm is typically expressed as a negative number, -88 for example. Some phones may omit the negative (-) sign so the reading appears as 88 dBm, instead of -88 dBm.
Regardless, 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 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 service and might require a phone booster. Learn about ways to improve your cell signal and ensure strong connectivity.
There are some differences in signal strength readings between 4G and 3G networks. We’ll have to cover those another time.
Also your Android phone will read only one network at a time. If you have 4G network access, that’s the default dBm reading your phone will display. If there’s no 4G service, the reading will default to 3G.
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