weBoost Support -

What do the bars on your phone really mean?

Print Friendly and PDF Print

What do the bars on your phone really mean?

We all know what the bars graphic on the home screen of our mobile phones is 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 key word here is ‘relative.’

What I mean is this: if your mobile phone displays from one to five bars (dots) 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’s all your phone’s bars (dots) graphic can tell you.

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, etc.

You may even have had this experience – your phone shows four bars, but when you try to text or download you can’t do it because you have no service despite the four big bars you see.

The truth is, there are no standards for signal strength bars.

Each mobile phone manufacturer uses an algorithm they’ve developed to sense the strength level of available signal. 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 bars graphics.

The only reliable ways to determine how strong a signal is available for your phone is to take a reading in decibels, or dBm, or simply try placing a call. 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 a reading of -79 dBm is a stronger signal than -88 dBm.

A reading of -50 is one of the strongest signals 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. The instructions below will help you determine how to read your signal in decibels rather than bars.



Most Android phone models allow the user to view signal strength readings by navigating the device's menu tree. Finding the right menu screen varies across phone manufacturers, models and versions of Android OS. A typical navigation sequence is Settings – About Phone – Status or Network – 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 – 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, there are apps you can download from the Play Store, such as SignalCheck Lite, which may allow you to read your signal strength as well. *Hint: look for the 1x or 3G signal for accurate signal information.*


Or for an iPhone (any carrier), 

*For use on an iPhone 6 and higher, running on iOS 9 or newer, go in to your Settings, then Cellular, then Cellular Data Options, then change the Enable LTE status to OFF (after testing you can go back in and turn the LTE back to either Voice & Data or to Data).*

*Update for iOS 11 may not allow for iPhones to be placed in the Field Test mode.*


1. Dial *3001#12345#*

2. Press CALL


-Verizon or Sprint - Qualcomm Chipset**


1. Tap on "1x EV-DO"

2. "Rx AGC0" is where your decibel reading is displayed.


You may have to restart your phone to be able to get back into the menu again.


Please remember that the closer the negative number is to -50, the better the reading is on your phone (eg. -80 is better than a -95)


NOTE: iPhone X may not be able to work with this type of decibel readings with the LTE off, it's best to keep it on for the iPhone X only.


-AT&T and T-Mobile - Intel Chipset**


Keeping your LTE on would be advised for best results.


1. Tap on "LTE"

2. Tap on "Serving Cell Measure", it may be addressed as "Serving Cell Meas" as well.

3. "rsrp0" is where your LTE measurement is located.


Be aware that LTE signal is not the same as 3G or 1X since it's on a different frequency. The principal is the same where a negative number such as -90 is better than a -100. 


You can switch back in between phone menus without turning off the phone completely.


**If there's a provider that is not mentioned, you can find your phone's model and see what type of chip you have in your phone by doing these simple steps:


1. Go to "Settings"

2. Tap on "General" or "General Settings"

3. Tap on "About"

4. Go down to "Model" and tap on the model number. For an Iphone 6S from Verizon it should show "MKT02LL/A" and when pressed it should switch to the true hidden model number being "A1688" for an Intel or "A1633' for Qualcomm

From there you should be able to determine what to look for as explained above on how to find your decibel readings.

Here are a list of iPhone's models and their associated chip:



"Other" refers to international carriers that may or may not being using the same Intel or Qualcomm chip. They may work with the new test mode as well.




To allow the negative number to change, or for the most accurate readings, put your phone into Airplane Mode. This is especially helpful if you are taking readings at different locations, or it serves as a means to refresh the cellular network status in your phone.


To access Airplane Mode, swipe the screen from the bottom to the top to bring up all of your gadgets (Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.). Tap the airplane icon to turn it on, wait 5-10 seconds, and then tap it again to turn it off. Your signal strength should change.


An excellent signal would be -50 (this is the signal you will see when standing near a cell phone tower), a weak signal would be a -105 (this is the signal you will see when calls begin to drop).


Here is an article about how we recommend choosing the appropriate booster for your home:


For additional informative weBoost videos, visit our YouTube channel here http://bit.ly/1JlmQ89.


Was this article helpful?
0 out of 1 found this helpful

Have more questions? Submit a request

Have more questions? Submit a request