Cellular Signal Strength vs. Signal Quality: What's the Difference?

Cellular Signal Strength vs. Signal Quality: What's the Difference?

Written by Alejandra Jasso
17th Aug 2022

Cellular Signal Strength and Quality Makes Cell Service Reliable

For the best cellular connection, you need strong, quality cell signal. Both signal strength and signal quality affect calls, texts, and data, but they aren’t the same thing.

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What’s the Difference Between Signal Quality and Signal Strength?

Cellular signal quality represents how much interference exists between your device and tower or small cell. Less noise allows for clearer calls and faster data speeds. Signal strength, on the other hand, refers to the strength of the signal your device receives from the tower or small cell. Those with strong cellular signal have an easier time placing calls, sending texts, and accessing the internet.

It’s possible to have good signal strength but poor signal quality, and vice versa.

What Affects Signal Strengths and Quality?

5G, 4G, and LTE signals are nothing more than radio frequency waves traveling to and from cell sites and devices. Anything that interferes with the waves affects both signal strength and quality. Common culprits that influence mobile connectivity include:

How to Measure Cellular Signal Strength

Cell signal strength is measured in dBm (decibel-milliwatts) and reported as RSRP (Reference Signal Received Power) for 4G. SS-RSRP (Synchronization Signal Reference Signal Received Power) defines 5G NR (New Radio) signal strength. With 5G being so new, there’s not much information available on how to measure its strength. Thus, we will be focusing on 4G.

While you could measure signal strength with bars, dBm readings are much more accurate. Generally, 4G signal strength ranges from -50 dBm (great signal) to -120 dBm (extremely poor signal). The closer you are to -50 dBm, the stronger your cell signal.

Android users can easily measure their signal strength through their phone settings or with an app. iPhone user, on the other hand, can only measure RSRP via Field Test Mode. Though, it doesn't work for all Apple devices.

Visit our guides for signal strength measuring instructions and app recommendations:

How to Read Cell Signal Strength Best Cell Signal Strength Apps

How to Measure Cellular Signal Quality

The quality of your cell signal is expressed as RSRQ (Reference Signal Received Quality) and measured in dB (Decibels) for 4G. SS-RSRQ (Synchronization Signal Reference Signal Received Quality) defines 5G NR signal quality. Since there is limited 5G signal quality information, we will be focusing on 4G.

RSRQ typically ranges from 0 dB (high quality) to -20 dB (poor quality). Here's a breakdown:

RSRQ Cellular Signal Quality
>-9 dB Excellent Quality
-9 to -12 dB Good Quality
<-12 dB Fair to Poor Quality

*Values were attained from the 5G Store. They are cellular signal quality estimates. Results will vary across devices and carriers.

The closer you are to 0, the better your connection. Android users can measure signal quality using apps like Network Cell Info and LTE Discovery. Such apps aren't available in the Apple store. Most iPhone users can find their RSRQ measurement through Field Test Mode.

Another indicator of signal quality is your signal-to-noise ratio (SNR or S/R). The higher it is, the better. However, it’s a little bit more complicated to calculate.

What is More Important, Signal Strength or Signal Quality?

By far, signal quality is more important than signal strength. You could have 5 bars of service, but with poor signal quality, you may still experience slow data and dropped calls. In areas with good quality signal, some users don’t experience connectivity issues even with weak signal strength.

Does Increasing Signal Strength Increase Signal Quality?

Not necessarily. Soley improving signal strength does not eliminate or lessen the noise degrading signal quality. If your cell signal quality is poor, only increasing signal strength won't improve voice quality or data speeds.

How to Improve Cell Phone Signal Strength and Quality

The best way to improve signal strength and signal quality is with a cell phone signal booster. They capture your existing outside cell signal, amplify it, and rebroadcast the boosted signal where you need it. To do so, booster kits are equipped with a donor antenna, an amplifier, and an indoor antenna.

Their amplification power, aka gain, shows up to how much they can improve your signal strength. If your cell signal strength is on the weaker end, consider a cellular booster with higher gain. In most cases, to improve signal quality, we recommend pairing the amplifier with a directional donor antenna. Since their radiation beam is directional and narrower, they can help fine-tune the quality of the signal you receive. You will no longer have to worry about choppy calls, undelivered texts, or snail-like data speeds.

Here are our most popular cellular boosters for home, business, and vehicle:

weboost home multiroom
weBoost Home MultiRoom - 470144

Better signal strength and quality for small to medium homes.

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weBoost for Business 100 - 472060
weBoost for Business 100 - 472060

Better signal strength and quality for small businesses.

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weboost drive reach
weBoost Drive Reach - 470154

Better signal strength and quality for vehicles. Multiple variations available.

Buy Now at $499.99

For a full lineup, visit our cellular signal booster guide.

Why Knowing Your Signal Strength and Signal Quality is Important

Understanding your cell signal strength and signal quality will help you identify the root of your connection issues. With this information, you’ll be able to find the best signal booster kit for your needs.

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of home, office, and vehicle cellular boosters. Our signal experts are ready to answer any questions you may have as well as make recommendations. Call us (1-800-568-2723), email us (sales@wilsonamplifiers.com), chat with us, or comment below.

Interested in Learning More? Check Out Our Signal Boosting Info Center

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