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How to Read Cell Phone Signal Strength The Right Way

on May 03, 2018

Time to leave the bar

The number of bars on your phone?

Not the best way to measure cell phone signal strength.

Think of it like cooking without using measuring cups and spoons. Sure you can eyeball everything and get a decent meal, but when you want to produce the same reliable results, you need to get accurate.

And cell phone bars are not accurate. Why?

That's because they're SUBJECTIVE across all carriers!

In plain English, it's up to each individual carrier to decide what's 1,2, 3, or full bars on their own service. So what could be 1 bar on Verizon, might be 2 bars on AT&T, 3 bars on Sprint, and 4 bars on T-Mobile.

Completely subjective!

There is no industry standard that ties cell phone signal strength to the number of bars on your phone.

But there is the one true method.

Say hello to my decibel friend 

Cell phone signals are radio waves, the AM/FM kind, that operate within a certain frequency:

- 50 decibels to -120 decibels (dBm).

 -50 dBm is great signal or full bars. -120 dBm is very poor signal or a dead zone.

This is true for all cellular devices in North America and true for all carriers from AT&T to even local carriers. 

So understanding how to find & read dBm on your phone is much more accurate than the number of bars. 

Let's look at finding dBm values on your phone: 


For iPhone Users 

IMPORTANT: There are two set of instructions for iOS 9 &10 users and iOS 11 users. Starting with iOS 11, Apple has hidden the ability to view dBm signal. However, depending on your iPhone chipset & carrier you should have a 25% chance to view your dBm (more info below).

For iOS 9 & 10 Users

  1. Go into Phone Mode

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 1
  2. Dial and Call *3001#12345#*

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 2
  3. You'll enter Field Test Mode

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 3
  4. Drag down your notifications bar and you will see your dB reading in the left-hand corner.

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 4

For iOS 11 Users

Two important factors determine whether you'll be able to access your dBm reading. First is the chipset in your iPhone: Intel or Qualcomm. However, certain carriers will only work with certain chipsets. 

AT&T and T-Mobile will show dBm signal on Intel chipsets but not Qualcomm. Verizon and Sprint will show dBm readings on Qualcomm chipsets but not Intel.

Confusing yes?

So it leaves to having a bit of luck. Here's how to see if you're one of the lucky ones:

  1. Dial and Call *3001#12345#*

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 1

  2. If you you see this screen, you are an AT&T or T-Mobile user on the Intel chipset. Select LTE, then Serving Cell Measure. Your dBm signal is read as rsrp0.

    How to access db cell signal on iPhone
    How to access db cell signal on iPhone
    How to access db cell signal on iPhone

  3. If you you see this screen, you are an Verizon or Sprint user on the Qualcomm chipset. Select 1x EV-DO. Your dBm signal is read as RX AGC0.

  4. How to access db cell signal on iPhone
    How to access db cell signal on iPhone
  5. If you see this screen, unfortunately, you have an incompatible carrier on the chipset. Best methods are use the websites and apps listed above along with a speed test tool like Speedtest by Ookla around different areas outside your home can give you a general idea of the direction of the cell tower.  

  6. How to access db cell signal on iPhone, Step 2


For Android Users

1. Access Settings



How to access db cell signal on Android phones, Step 1

2. Then General



How to access db cell signal on Android phones, Step 2

3. Go to About Phone



How to access db cell signal on Android phones, Step 3

4. Network or Status



How to access db cell signal on Android phones, Step 4

5. You should see your dBm Value



How to access db cell signal on Android phones, Step 5


For Blackberry Users

1. Access Settings.

2. Select Device.

3. Select Device Status.

4. Select Network Info.

5. Then you'll see dBm reading.


For Other Users

If you need help finding dBm values on your phone, email us at  sales@wilsonamplifiers.com.


Ok, so now you have access to dBm readings. What's next?

It's recommended you walk around the outside of your home or property. dBm readings take from a few seconds to half a minute to refresh, so walk slowly.

Find out which area consistently is closest to -50 dBm. 

By doing this, you find out two things: your best dBm reading and the area of your home which gets the best signal.

Now let's decipher what good signal is in terms of dBm.

Please note this is an educated but general assumption. The following chart is not true for all carriers, because each carrier has their own standard for dBm to bars. Let's get started.

If your outside signal ranges from: 

  • -50 to -79 dBm, then it's generally considered great signal  (4 to 5 bars). 
  • -80 to -89 dBm, then it's generally considered good signal (3 to 4 bars).
  • -90 to -99 dBm, then it's generally considered average signal (2 to 3 bars).
  • -100 to -109 dBm, then it's generally considered poor signal (1 to 2 bars).
  • -110 to -120 dBm, then it's generally considered very poor signal (0 to 1 bar).

So what's your best dBm value?


What to do if your dBm reading is over -100?

Generally from -95 dBm and above, you're dealing with below average signal. However, at -100 dB, that's when you're experiencing some serious inconsistent service and weak reception.

Here are some posts we've written that can help:

  1. 9 Easy Ways To Improve Your Cell Phone Signal
  2. AT&T Signal Booster
  3. Verizon Signal Booster
  4. T-Mobile Signal Booster
  5. Sprint Signal Booster

If you want the best way to get better signal, why not consider a cell phone signal booster? They're all-carrier devices that boost weak 3G & 4G signals. Learn more with our Definitive Guide:


Need help? Email us today ( sales@wilsonamplifiers.com) or give us a call at 1-800-568-2723. A cell phone signal expert will gladly assist you in getting better signal instantly.

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