We’ve all been there before, you’re in a walled or remote area and you’re waving your cell phone in the air as you watch it struggle to maintain 1-bar signal strength. It sure seems like every smartphone on this planet has adopted the 1-5 bar signal strength meter as the #1 and only judge of your connectivity to the rest of the world. However, we’re going to demonstrate why signal strength doesn’t tell you the full picture, and how signal quality, otherwise known as signal speed, is a more useful measurement of your cellular connection.
Signal Strength vs Signal Speed
First, let’s agree that your phone’s 1-5 bar signal strength is only useful to you as long as it is a good indication of your signal speed. For example, you only ever stop to check your bars if your video is interrupted by constant buffering, your calls are dropping, or your texts aren’t going through; all of which are symptoms of a slow/no internet speed. The only reason why people ever bother to check their signal strength is because of their signal speed. But is signal strength a good measurement of signal speed? Is having 4 bars on your phone always better or faster than 3?
To discover the answer to this question, we must first understand Signal Quality, aka Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR).
Signal Quality as an Indication of Signal Speed
Signal-to-Noise Ratio, or SNR, is an indication of signal quality and is measured using the logarithmic ratio of signal strength/noise strength. Not the kind of noise you get in a daycare center full of toddlers, but electromagnetic noise, which is a natural property of all objects and can include atmospheric, cosmic, man-made, channel interference, and thermal noise. Noise competes with our signal, which means that a higher SNR is considered to have better signal quality and offers faster data speeds, while having too low a SNR can grind data rates to a halt, no matter how strong the original signal.
Wow! Looks like SNR could be a strong contender against signal strength for being the #1 cellular signal metric you care about. But which one is a better measurement of signal speed?
Signal Quality Trumps Signal Strength
We won’t beat around the bush–the biggest myth in the public space is that the 1-5 bar signal strength indicator on your phone is directly correlated to data speed on the device. This is a gross misunderstanding, because signal speed is dependent upon signal quality (SNR) and is largely unaffected by signal strength.
While it is true that having 1 bar of signal strength on your phone can make browsing a chore if not outright impossible, the reason for slow speeds at low signal strength lies in the low SNR which is a common by-product of low signal strength. In the absolute absence of noise, there is no lower limit to how weak a signal can be received without impacting the speed because our SNR would always be high, thanks to a low/non-existent Noise denominator.
If the signal strength dips too close to the noise floor, as is common with 1-bar situations, data speeds will grind towards a halt. However, higher signal strength alone will not increase data speeds, as we see in Scenario #4 where a high signal strength + high noise floor would still dramatically slow or stop internet speed.
Therefore, to increase our cellular internet speed, we must maximize signal quality (SNR) by either boosting the signal strength (doesn’t work if you’re already above 3-4 bars) or by lowering the noise floor.
Everyday Analogy for Signal Quality
A good way of thinking about signal strength and signal quality/SNR would be to imagine trying to hear your friend shout to you across a room full of people in lively conversation. In this example, signal speed would be how well you can understand your friend. Noise would be how loud the background conversation is in the room. Signal strength would be how loudly your friend is yelling at you from across the room. Signal quality would then naturally be the measure of how much louder your friend is over the rest of the room.
Notice how if the ambient noise is very low/nonexistent where everyone else in the room is quiet, your friend will not have to shout very loudly for you to hear and understand the message. This would be akin to receiving a weak signal under a perfect zero noise vacuum, which would still offer high signal quality and signal speeds.
However, we know this situation is impossible in the real world since everything creates signal noise. Let’s turn up the ambient conversation volume in the room to a medium level. Now, your friend has to shout much louder in order for you to understand the same message. Past a certain volume though, increasing the loudness of your friend’s message further will not necessarily help you understand your friend better. The same thing happens with signal boosters and your cellular devices, which explains why you really notice the difference between 1-bar and 3-bar signal strength on your phone, but not as much between 3-bar and 5-bar.
If Signal Quality is so Important, How do I Boost it?
We’re glad you asked, because SureCall is the first to develop and exclusively patent Extended Range Technology™ (ERT) on our signal boosters, which provides several key performance advantages for your cellular signal including increased signal quality/speed and more simultaneous users, while maintaining connectivity across a wider range of weak signal/dead zones.
ERT accomplishes this by enhancing the signal quality of incoming cellular signals using an elegant solution that rearranges the typical components of a booster system. The increased signal quality in this system, measured as a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), is paid forwards through the booster and cable lines until the signal reaches your phone/device, where the increased SNR imparts notable speed advantages. As the uplink signals return from your phone back through the booster system to the cell tower, ERT is also able to boost this farther than all other systems today, helping you stay connected in areas never thought possible. With ERT-enabled boosters for vehicles like the N-Range and Fusion2Go Max, this means you’ll enjoy cellular call/text/data in areas most would consider “dead” zones. These distinct advantages are what makes SureCall’s ERT boosters stand head and shoulders above the competition.
The genius of ERT is that instead of building a bigger booster with more expensive parts that would help your friend shout across the room louder, ERT manages to hush the rest of the room, effectively lowering the noise floor which would normally compete with your friend’s shouting. The converse is also true, as ERT would also help your friend understand your reply over the noise floor, establishing a strong, reliable, and fast connection between your device and cell towers.
How does ERT work?
So how does an ERT equipped booster provide a higher-quality signal to your mobile device?
ERT boosters are uniquely able to avoid the signal loss in the cable (signals weaken as they travel through mediums such as cables) from the outside antenna to the booster. By eliminating the roughly -4 dB worth of signal loss, ERT is able to boost a downlink signal that is 2 or more times higher in quality than other boosters. This translates directly into faster speeds for ERT booster users.
If we compare the typical booster system against one of SureCall’s ERT Boosters, we notice a striking yet simple difference in the organization of the components.
Note: Phone Bar Signal Strength (RSRP) of -120 dBm = very weak signal. -50 dBm = very strong signal. Higher SNR = faster speed
As the signal travels back through the booster system from your phone to the cell tower, the ERT system is able to avoid the -4 dB Cable loss a second time, giving the uplink signal an extra push. This is why ERT boosters are able to service a wider range of locations. ERT is simply built to keep working in places/areas where other boosters falter.
What does this mean for you?
Now that we are all a bit wiser to signal strength vs signal quality/speed, we can make well-informed decisions regarding our booster system of choice by placing less emphasis on signal strength bars and more on speed-tests.
In fact, ERT Boosters perform so much better than the competition that carriers, in an effort to service the maximum simultaneous users possible, may sometimes “kick” devices using an ERT Booster down to lower-strength bands (which supports a higher user capacity) in order to make room for lower-performing boosters & devices on their more exclusive high-strength bands. Despite having 3 bars instead of 4 on your phone in this rare happenstance, signal speed, your #1 performance indicator, is likely still faster than other boosters which are allowed to remain on the high-strength low-capacity bands.
It’s a good idea to be 100% certain of the value you are getting from boosters, so we recommend Internet speed test options such as the Speedtest app, SpeedOf app, or even streaming videos normally can sometimes help determine changes in speed. Keep in mind, these speed advantages are going to be most noticeable in weaker signal areas where the noise floor levels pose a real threat to signal speed.
ERT as a SureCall Exclusive
The N-Range is a strong entry-level booster for vehicles that suits the solo adventurer perfectly with an affordable price-point, simplistic design, easy installation, and ERT-enabled performance.
The Fusion2Go Max is our top-of-the-line booster for vehicles that pushes performance limits across the board, putting all other boosters on the market to shame. It features the same high-quality materials used in our other models while also boasting more cell tower-vehicle range, internet speed, and simultaneous users than its contemporaries thanks to the ERT architecture.