Cell Phone Bar Crawl: What Those Cell Phone Bars Tell You (Or Don’t) About Cellular Signal Strength

Cell phone bars only tell you part of your cellular signal’s story.

Back when I was younger, if someone came up to me and asked me “how many bars do you have?” I would have responded with “well, there’s Mojo’s out on Peralta, the Florence in downtown Niles, but if you want the most bang for your buck, you gotta go with Coach’s.”  In these times, bars are no longer referring to drinking establishments. These social watering holes are now referred to as “Cantinas” or “Lounges”.  Bars are now inexorably associated with how well your cellphone is working. The phrase “Bar Crawl” can now refer to someone holding their cell phone high in the air and slowly moving without discernible direction or the courtesy of an “excuse me.”

Cellular carriers have done a fantastic job at convincing the general public that the bars on your phone show you how well the network is working.  However, many people do not know the seedy underbelly of how these 5 little vertical lines in varying heights deceive those that rely on them.

When referring to what the bars on your phone really mean, Richard Gaywood, who has a PhD in Wireless Networking, says that the “magic formula is basically made up by the design engineers as they see fit, and it can vary from phone to phone and even between software releases on the same phone.”

What?!  You mean “Bar Crawling” isn’t actually doing anything to improve the way my phone receives signal?  That’s correct.  When you get deeper into the wireless world, you will notice more people referring to signal in dB or “decibels”. Changing your phone to field-test mode removes your phones bars and replaces them with a dB reading. Click this link for a quick how-to put your phone in field-test mode.

In general, a “good” signal is anything greater than -90 dB, with -50 dB being average for 5 “bars”.  This is why, when using a signal booster like the all new Flare from SureCall to enhance indoor signal, it is recommended the signal getting into the booster be as close to -50 dB as possible.  Since signal boosters do not generate signal from the internet, the better the signal is outside, the better the signal will be inside.

For more info about how to switch your phone’s display into dB instead of bars, check out our support section on our website.  Click here for more info about our line of home/office cell phone signal boosters.

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