How to Read Cell Phone Signal Strength The Right Way

How to Read Cell Phone Signal Strength The Right Way

Written by Wilson Amplifiers
17th May 2022

Time to Ditch the Bar Talk

When a call drops or your internet is slow, what’s the first thing you do? Most people check the bars on their phone.

Signal bars don’t accurately depict cell phone signal strength. They’re SUBJECTIVE across carriers and phones!

You see, there’s no industry standard that ties cell phone signal strength to the number of bars on your phone. It's up to each carrier or phone manufacturer to decide what's 1, 2, 3, 4, or full bars on their service. So, 2 bars on AT&T, could be 3 bars on T-Mobile, or 4 bars on Verizon.

But there is one true method.

We fix poor cell phone signal! Find the right signal booster for you:

For Home
For Vehicle
For Business
For Commercial

Decibel-Milliwatts: The Most Accurate Cell Phone Signal Strength Measurement

Cell phone signals are radio waves (AM/FM) operating within certain cellular frequencies. Decibel-milliwatts, or dBm for short, measures the strength of the wave. These are expressed in negative numbers.

Cellular signal strength ranges from -50 dBm (great signal or full bars) to -120 dBm (very poor signal or a dead zone).

This is true for all cellular devices and carriers in North America.

Understanding how to find and read dBm on your phone is much more accurate and reliable than the number of bars.

What’s a Good Signal Strength for a Cell Phone?

If your outside signal ranges from:

Signal Strength General Results
-50 to -79 dBm Considered great signal (4 to 5 bars)
-80 to -89 dBm Considered good signal (3 to 4 bars)
-90 to -99 dBm Considered average signal (2 to 3 bars)
-100 to -109 dBm Considered poor signal (1 to 2 bars)
-110 to -120 dBm Considered very poor signal (0 to 1 bar)

Please note: This chart depicts an educational but general assumption. It may not be true for all carriers as each carrier has their own dBm to bars conversion standard.

The closer you are to -50 dBm, the better your signal strength. -90 dBm or over is good and reliable. You’ll be able to enjoy uninterrupted calls and fast data speeds. Around -100 dBm is where most experience inconsistent service and weak reception. Calls drop, texts take long to send, videos constantly buffer, and webpages are slow. At -120 dBm or lower, your phone is just a paperweight. Cell phone signal boosters can help those with below-average signal.

How Do I Check My Phone’s Signal Strength?

Most smartphones can measure signal strength in dBm through field test mode. The process will vary depending on your device’s make and model.

How to Read Your iPhone Cell Signal?

Apple Devices

Starting with iOS 11 and 12, Apple has hidden dBm readings in the iPhone field test mode. However, your iPhone chipset (Intel or Qualcomm) and your carrier (Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile) will determine if this method works.

Before getting started, turn off your WiFi connection. Once off, here’s how to access field test mode:

For iOS 15:

  • Dial *3001#12345#*
  • Your dBm may be visible on the dashboard’s RSRP section. If not…
  • Tap the Menu Tab on the top right corner.
  • Tap Cell Info.
  • Your dBm is read as rsrp.

For iPhone with Intel chipset (iOS 11, iOS 12, iOS 13, and iOS 14)

  • Dial *3001#12345#*
  • Tap LTE on iOS 11-13, or the Menu Tab on iOS 13-14
  • Tap Serving Cell Meas
  • Your dBm is read as rsrp0.

iOS 14 pictured

ios 14 db reading 1 ios 14 db reading 2 ios 14 db reading 3 ios 14 db reading 4


For iPhone with Qualcomm chipset (iOS 11 & 12)

  • Dial *3001#12345#*
  • Tap 1xEV-DO.
  • Your dBm is read as RX AGC0.

For any iPhone pre-iOS 11

  • Dial *3001#12345#*
  • Swipe down notifications bar.
  • Your dBm is in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

If you’re unable to find any of these options during your field test mode process, you most likely have an incompatible carrier and chipset. The next best method is performing a speed test around areas inside and outside your home. Keep your WiFi off when running a test. Speed results can be used as a better guide than bars to determine what your signal strength looks like and where you get the best signal.

Once we crack the code on dBm readings for iPhones, we’ll update as soon as possible.

How to Read Your Android Cell Signal?

Android Devices

Field test mode on Android varies by phone model and Android OS version. However, it is generally found under the Settings menu.

Typical sequence:

  • Tap Settings
  • Tap About Phone
  • Tap Status or Network
  • Tap SIM Status
  • Your dBm is under Signal strength

Alternate navigation sequences:

  • Tap Settings.
  • Tap More Options or More Settings.
  • Tap About Phone.
  • Tap Mobile Networks.
  • Your dBm is under Signal strength.
  • Tap Settings.
  • Tap System.
  • Tap About Phone.
  • Tap Status .
  • Tap SIM Status
  • Your dBm is under Signal strength.
  • Tap Settings.
  • Tap About Phone.
  • Tap Status.
  • Your dBm is under Signal strength.

For Other Types of Devices

For all other devices, you can consult your device's manual or the manufacturer’s website for field test information. If you’re struggling and need help finding dBm values, call us at 1-800-568-2723 or email us at sales@wilsonamplifiers.com.

Are There Different Ways to Measure Cell Phone Signal Strength?

Field test mode is usually the go-to method since it's easy and doesn't require much data. If field test mode isn't working for you, there are loads of signal strength apps you can try. Visit Best Smartphone Apps to Find and Test Your Mobile Signal Strength for our recommendations.

Now That You Have Access to dBm Readings, What's Next?

If you’re only interested in attaining your signal strength in a specific location, go to that spot and wait a few seconds for your device to measure your signal.

To measure signal strength throughout your home or property, walk around inside and outside. dBm readings take a few seconds to half a minute to refresh, so walk slowly. As you measure your signal, take notes to find out which areas are closest to -50 dBm.

By doing this, you’ll find your best dBm reading and the area of your home which gets the best signal.

Please note that when standing still you may see a fluctuation of ±5 dBm. This is normal. It’s mainly caused by the number of users connected to the cell tower. The signal power your phone receives decreases when there are multiple devices connected and increases when the number of connected devices decreases.

What Causes Poor Signal Strength?

Poor signal strength can be the result of:

We have a detailed article tackling this topic. For more information, visit 9 Reasons Why Cell Phone Signals Suddenly Go Bad.

Why Is My Signal Strength Weak When I Can See the Tower?

Cell towers consist of multiple antennas. These antennas are designed to broadcast cell signals from specific carriers in specific directions at specific power levels. So, while you can see the tower from your home, the tower may not be broadcasting your carrier's signal in your direction. It’s also possible that your carrier isn’t supported by that tower.

How Do I Increase My Phone’s Signal Strength?

There are a few tricks you can try to improve your signal, like using WiFi calling, updating your software, and more. For a full list, visit Easy Ways to Boost Your Cell Signal for Free.

While not free, we’ve found cell phone signal boosters to be the best at improving signal strength and providing consistent results.

Cellular boosters take your existent outside cell signal, amplify it, and deliver a stronger signal inside. They are 5G ready and significantly improve talk, text, and data for all cellular devices from any carrier. Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of cell phone signal boosters for homes, offices, and vehicles.

Here are some resources that can help you learn more about signal boosters as well as find the best one for you:

If you have any questions, please call us at 1-800-568-2723 or email us at sales@wilsonamplifiers.com. We’re happy to help.

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

THE WILSON AMPLIFIERS ADVANTAGE
FREE SHIPPING No Minumum Purchase
90-DAY
Money Back Guarantee
LIFETIME
Technical Support