We all check how many bars we have on our smartphones and assume it’s an accurate guide to how strong our
signal is. But what do those bars really represent?
There’s no standard. They do indicate signal strength, but it’s up to the handset manufacturer to come up with whatever algorithm they want. They certainly want to do something that is appropriate for the consumer, it needs to be meaningful information, but the details are up to them.
Nextivity makes processors and products that boost cell phone receptivity Its products have been approved by the FCC in the U.S. and by over 180 operators globally. The company also supplies the boosters that T-Mobile gives away to customers in the U.S. to improve the quality of their service. Consequently, Steve does a lot of signal testing.
How quickly do bars change?
Phones are complex and frankly, some phones may not update the bars on the screen very often. “We’ve seen in excess of 15 minutes without an update on the number of bars. What you’re seeing, versus what is reality, can be two very different things, and that can make it difficult sometimes to use a handset as a measuring tool.” That means, if you’ve ever walked around with your phone held in the air like a divining rod, staring at those bars, willing them to jump, you may be wasting your time. It depends on what kind of phone you have. An iPhone might show you two or three bars, because of lower signal-to- noise ratio, because of issues on the network, whereas an Android right next to it shows five bars. If one walks away from the booster, he/she would see the signal level drop on the Android, so the number of bars gradually decreases, whereas in that specific case of heavy loading, an iPhone might show less bars when one is right next to the booster, but as the person walks away it will remain relatively constant, because it’s heavily favoring this network loading issue.
How can you make emergency calls with no bars?
When you make an emergency call in the U.S., your phone uses any available channel from any operator, one could even be low on battery, where your phone wouldn’t normally let you make a phone call, but it will let you make an emergency call at all costs. It’s actually a legal requirement in the U.S. and many other countries, but it doesn’t relate to the bar system.
What can you do to boost your signal?
Booster technology has been restricted recently after the FCC brought in new regulations. The agency
has clamped down on some older amplifying technology because it was causing problems for the operators,
who pay a lot billions to license the spectrum from the government.
Nextivity’s boosters start at around the same price as a smartphone. But if you’re with T-Mobile and having
problems, call them and ask about Cel-Fi Signal Boosters.
Now that we know what the bars are really showing, and how to measure the signal strength for ourselves, we’re
off to check out that field test mode.