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Signal Bars on Your Phone and What They Actually Mean

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Ever wonder what those little dots or bars at the top of your phone screen mean? Yep, we’re talking about how many bars your phone has. Contrary to common belief, this doesn’t accurately reflect signal strength. It’s time to learn about the signal bars on your phone and what they actually mean! In this blog, we break down what cell phone signal bars are, how to test them, and how to improve their strength.

What Are Signal Bars?

Those little bars at the top of your phone screen tell you about signal strength, but the reading isn’t exact. Sometimes you may only have a bar or two, but call quality is great. While one bar does indicate a poor signal and four is great, this reading isn’t the best way to gather precise information.

Test It

You could put an iPhone and Android side by side, eliminate all other variables, and still see bar readings on both phones. Experts really measure phone strength in decibels—phone bars are just an approximate reflection of this. You can also measure your cell phone signal strength using field test mode.

What Measures Signal Strength?

Since bars don’t fully measure cellular signal strength, you may find yourself wondering what does. If you want an exact reading on how strong your signal is, then you’ll have to get your decibel reading (dBm). Depending on your phone type, finding this information differs but accurately tells you how strong your signal is. There's actually quite a bit to know about cell phone signal strength, including how to read the signal.

Pro Tip

Part of understanding how dBm relates to signal is knowing what the numbers mean once you’ve pulled the reading up. Ideally, you want a number close to -50. If it’s approaching the hundreds, then your signal’s weak, and you probably drop a lot of calls!

Dealing With a Poor Signal

Maybe you’re an apartment dweller who struggles to make calls from home. Or you notice you have one or no bars anytime you visit the city. Everything from building materials to network traffic affects signal strength—even nature can impair it!

We use our phones to keep in touch with the world, so don’t let a poor signal stop you. Now that you know signal bars on your phone and what they actually mean, check out your decibel reading and get some honest insight into your signal strength.

Cell phone signal bars aren’t always the most accurate measurement of signal strength. When outside forces weaken your cellular signal, a cellular booster can improve it. Signal boosters enhance your phone’s signal by improving communication between your phone and the nearest network tower. SureCall Canada sells cellular signal boosters for apartments, homes, vehicles, and commercial buildings.


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