The Myth of 5 Bars Everywhere: How to Get More Bars on Your Cell Phone

Reprinted with permission from the WilsonPRO blog.

Cellular phone signal strength and your phone’s measurement of it are commonly misunderstood.

Whether your handheld device shows bars or dots — and it varies between providers — these symbols are supposed to represent the signal strength in any area. However, the accuracy of these bars varies significantly between manufacturers because there are no standards in place. As such, a cellular booster that boasts five bars of signal at all times is promising something that’s technically impossible, and unfortunately, fairly meaningless.

The aim of installing a cellular signal booster is to provide a useable signal throughout an entire building — not to lock five bars into your cell display. WilsonPro cellular boosters measure their results with respect to functionality rather than “bars,” so you can expect to make calls and access data services from anywhere. 

Read on to discover what the graphics on your phone’s display actually mean, and find out how to improve your real, functional signal strength in the workplace and beyond. 

What Do Phone Bars Actually Mean?

The power of your phone’s signal depends on a variety of factors, but it’s mainly related to your proximity to a cell tower and the architecture of your building. When you focus solely on the graphic display on your screen, you don’t know exactly how strong the signal is. While your phone tells you that two bars are stronger than three, and three are stronger than four, you’re left with no knowledge about how much stronger any given number of bars actually is compared to its smaller counterparts. 

Most people have had the baffling experience of being unable to stream videos or send a message despite seeing four or five bars on their display. This is because there are no regulations or standards for the bars on your phone and there’s no consistency across manufacturers. Major companies (such as Apple and Samsung) use an algorithm to sense how strong the signal is and then choose how to display the data, but there’s no communication or cohesion between them.

As such, comparing signal strength between phone models with any level of accuracy is unfeasible. One person’s five-bar display is often different from someone else’s five-bar phone display — there’s no way to know which person’s is stronger just by looking at the graphics. Unfortunately, this means the bars aren’t as meaningful as you may have been led to believe.

The Real Story About Measuring Signal Strength

Luckily, there is a way to accurately check the signal strength on your cell phone. You’ll need to put your phone into field test mode, and the exact process varies between Android and iPhone models. Both operating systems’ field tests take a reading of the signal in decibels. This is a standard unit of measurement, so — unlike phone signal bars — it provides an absolute reading of the strength of the available signal.

In most cases, decibels are written as a negative number, with -50 dBm representing the strongest signal you’re likely to see. The closer to zero the reading is, the better the signal, so -75 dBm is more desirable than -85 dBm. If the reading gets much weaker than -100 dBm, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to make calls, send text messages or use the internet.

Be sure to make use of this valuable feature. Though it may be buried in your phone’s operating system, accessing the field test on your cell is the only way to accurately measure the strength of your cell’s signal.

Why Do I Only Have One Bar of Signal on My Cell Phone?

There are several reasons why you might only have one bar of signal on your cell, including:

  • You’re located far away from a cell site
  • Your phone could be broken and in need of repair
  • It might be configured to only use LTE, 2G or 3G
  • The model of phone that you’re using has a weak antenna

How to Get More Bars on Your Phone

Now that you understand more about the way phone signal works, you can find the best ways to improve your experience with your cell service. If your phone is broken, the solution is simple. But if you’re unlucky enough to be in an area with weak signal strength or affected by other significant interferences, then you need to get creative with the solution.

Read on to explore what to look for in your phone’s configuration that could be hampering signal strength, and discover ways to boost the signal throughout your entire property.

1. Check Your Phone’s Configuration

Dropping your phone, even if it has a case, can lead to damage to the internal antenna. You should be able to arrange a free appointment with your carrier where they run a diagnostic tool that checks to make sure the hardware is running correctly.

If everything seems to be in order with the physical device, it’s worth checking that you have the most recent software updates installed. Although it can be inconvenient, it prevents your phone from functioning optimally. If neither the hardware nor the software is at fault, it may be an issue with location or other factors, such as interference from equipment or outdated architecture.

2. Get a Site Survey If You’re a Business Operator

If you’re a business owner with a building that has weak spots for signal, then your first step should be to get a site survey performed by a professional. A surveyor will use a signal meter, which is much better able to accurately assess the signal strength throughout the premises. This is essential for a place of work because using field test mode on your phone only tells you about your own device.

You’ll need a carrier-agnostic signal to guarantee that every employee and visitor’s signal gets a boost.

3. Omni Outside Antennas

An omni outside antenna adds up to 4 dB to your signal strength and sends and receives in all directions, which means it should work for all carriers, regardless of cell tower location. However, because they’re not as powerful as directional outside antennas, you get a little less coverage indoors. We’d recommend this type of antenna if the signal rarely drops below 3 bars or about -80 dBm.

4. Directional Outside Antennas

Directional antennas offer a 10 dB boost and are so-named because they need to be pointed in the direction of the cell tower to work. Each has around 75 degrees of leeway on either side, though, so it doesn’t need to be perfectly accurate — but the nearer the better. Although the gains are higher with this type of antenna, you might miss out on boosting the signal from certain carriers if the towers are located in different directions.

5. Dome Inside Antennas

A dome inside antenna must be mounted to the ceiling, so you need to be able to get behind your ceiling to install one. It offers up to 5 dB of signal gain and usually works for a single floor within a building, but can sometimes work across multiple floors, depending on the floor and ceiling construction in between.

6. Panel Inside Antennas

These antennas can be laid down on the floor or mounted on a wall, but they’re more frequently seen mounted on the ceiling aimed down towards the center of the space that requires a signal boost. Panel antennas can offer up to 10 dB of gains, so it’s the most powerful indoor solution for boosting indoor cell phone signal.

Benefits of Cell Phone Booster Equipment

There are plenty of advantages to using a cell signal amplifier system for your business, including:

• High-quality calls with excellent voice clarity, resulting in a more professional sound

• Fast internet across all devices, yielding increased productivity

• Easy maintenance 

• High mobility

• Affordability and selection

Instead of using bars to try and guess whether the cell signal in your home or workplace is strong enough, make sure to find out the exact measure in decibels. Once you know what you’re working with, you can get a measurable, effective signal boosting solution that best suits your needs. 

Get the cell booster you need

If you’re ready for a professional cellular booster solution, contact us at Signal Connect! Signal Connect is the arm of Solid Signal that handles activations and business needs. We’re here to help! When you’re ready, give us a call at 866-726-4182 or fill out the form below!

 

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.