What’s the best way to measure cell signal without a meter?

This is Wilson’s Quad-Band Signal Meter. It’s the tool the professionals use to measure cell service. If you’re looking to improve cell service at your workplace, you might want to pick one up. It’s really the only way to see what’s going on in terms that even an accountant would appreciate.

A cellular signal meter will measure all the different frequencies used by all the different carriers. That gives you the whole picture when you’re planning. Personally I think it’s a good investment even if you use it only once during the planning phase and once every so often to make sure things haven’t changed.

But what if it’s not in the budget?

Not everyone has a few hundred dollars to put toward a serious measurement device like this one. If you really want to do cellular measurements without a meter, it’s possible. You just need quite a few people and you need to plan ahead.

First things first – iPhones are not invited

Measuring cell signal with an iPhone is really hard, if not outright impossible. Some tutorials will tell you that if you enter in a funny string of numbers, you can get some information. Really you don’t get anything at all and what you do get isn’t constantly updating. This is all due to Apple’s perspective on how you should use your phone. They don’t want you to worry about signal levels, so they won’t approve apps that measure them. So, you’ll need to get some Android folks together.

Put together the posse

You’ll need a group of people with relatively modern Android phones. Choose one person from each major carrier: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. If there is a regional carrier that is really strong in your area, pick someone with that too.

Load the app

For measuring using an Android, I prefer using either Signal Strength or Phone Signal Information. Both are free at the Play Store. Phone Signal Information gives you a better display of signal over time but Signal Strength does a good job of showing you graphically what’s going on. Either one is fine but it’s important that everyone chooses the same ones. Both apps are pretty loaded up with ads and both have a paid version if you want to get extra features.

Walk around once and make notes

Go from place to place with your posse, measuring signal as you go. One person should be taking notes showing where you are and what the signal levels are. If you’re using Signal Strength, make sure to go into the “Cell Towers” menu which will show you actual signal strength in dBm, which is what the professionals use.

Turn off cellular data and walk around again

Have everyone in the group turn off cellular data and Wi-Fi and walk around again. This will make sure you’re testing the voice bands. Again, you’ll need to make good notes.

Put it all together in a way that makes sense to you.

With a lot of data you’ll be able to figure out where the dead spots are for each carrier. If you can map it out on a blueprint, that’s going to really explain things for you. If you don’t have that capability, contact the people at Solid Signal at 888-233-7563. We have some pull with the cell booster companies and sometimes if we send them all your notes and a blueprint (or just a copy or picture from your phone) they can feed it all into their fancy software and tell you what needs to happen.

After installing…

After the booster system is installed, get that posse together and do it all again in the exact same spots. This will tell you that all the cell antennas are working and that you are covered.

If you don’t want to involve a whole bunch of people…

…that’s why a cellular signal meter is such a good idea. You can map every frequency from every carrier and then test again after installation, all by yourself. The measurements will be more accurate and you’ll only have to walk around once because you’ll know what band you’re measuring. You’ll be saving a lot of time.

Once you’re convinced, head over to Solid Signal and get that meter. You’ll be glad you did.

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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.