Cellular Signal Strength vs. Signal Quality: What's the Difference?
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:
- Cell Tower Distance
- Cell Tower Load
- Competing Signals
- Building Material
- Barriers (Trees, Mountains, High-Rise Buildings)
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.
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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 (email@example.com), chat with us, or comment below.
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