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Find your phone's bar signal too vague? Here's how you can get a more accurate reading

If you find the signal bar on your phone a little too unreliable, this will give you a more accurate reading.

WE ALL KNOW the feeling: you’re in a rural area, you’re searching for some decent reception to make a phone call or access 3G/4G services and the signal strength bar is vague about how good your reception is.

If you find that the phone signal isn’t telling you the full story, there’s a way to change it and get a more accurate reading.

What is dBm?

Before we go into the methods used, it’s better to explain what you will be changing it to. Instead of a signal bar, you will see a decibel-milliwatt rating (dBm) instead. Essentially, this displays your signal strength in numbers instead of a vague bar chart, usually ranging from – 80 to -110 (Important note: This deals with phone reception and not 3G/4G strength).

The closer your number is to zero, the better the signal. As a general rule, anything around -110 would be considered a weak signal while a reading closer to -80 means your signal is great.

This may not be as important if you’re living in an urban area (and reception is good), but for those in rural areas, it gives you a better idea of what areas have reception and where the best spots are.

For iPhone

To change the phone signal, you have to activate field test mode. To do that, open up your call screen and dial *3001#12345#*, bringing you into field test mode.

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Here you can check up a large amount of info, but in this case, it’s of no relevance to you (unless you happen to be a phone technician or field operator). Instead, you will have noticed your signal bar has changed.


If you exit out of field test straight away, it will revert back to normal so to keep it that way, turn off your phone while in field view and turn it back on again. If you exit back to the home screen, it will revert back to the normal bar graph.

If you want to change back to the original view, there are two ways to do this: either tap on the signal counter to switch temporarily, or dial *3001#12345#* and change it permanently.

For Android

While you can’t get it to replace the bars located at the top of the screen (there’s not enough space there for such a counter to fit), you can check the signal in more detail. Simply go into ‘Settings’ and ‘About Phone’ and you will see signal strength – fourth listing from the top – which will give you your signal strength in dBm.

You can download apps that will change the status bar to show dBm strength (a quick search of ‘dBm’ will bring a number of them up), the least jarring one would be Signal Notification, but you can download apps that will display it as a widget or analyse it in greater detail.


For Windows Phone

Similar to the iPhone, you can find your dBm signal in field test, although the number to do this differs between models. As a rule, most Nokia phones require you to dial ##3282# on your phone to activate it, although for certain models, this may not work.

Similar to Android, you cannot replace the traditional bar signal with a dBm reading.

Read: Google could be in hot water with Europe again, this time with Android >

Read: Mobile Monthly: The biggest developments that happened in July >

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