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Mobile Phone Signal Bars - What Do They Really Mean?

Jul 11, 2008
In the corner of every mobile phone screen is a little signal icon that we all know. But do you really know what those signal bars mean? I doubt it.

People do often read into signal bars to deeply without knowing what they mean. How many times have you being unable to make a call due to lack of signal but your friends brag about their five bars! So what does all of this mean? Does it mean that the quality of your call will be clearer and not a steven hawking rip off? Or does it mean you can only send text messages at the moment, we just dont know!

Theres lots of discussion on what the signal bars actually mean, someone people believe they mean one thing while others think they mean another, but takes these points into consideration-

There is no industry definition of what one or two bars mean etc

A lot of phones only estimate signal quality when they are not in use and only measure it properly when you make a call, this is misleading.

Under the CDMA protocol (mainly used in north America) each bar represents how much of the current signal is usable

So nobody really knows what the signal bars mean, as manufacturers are not working to a standard, a signal bar on a Nokia handset may suggest there is full signal available, where as a sony ericsson may suggest there is full signal available but only a portion of it is usable.

This means although a Nokia may show 5 bars, and a Sony Ericsson is showing 1 bar, they could both represent the same signal strength.

Until a mobile industry standard is set that all manufacturers work to, we will never know what they truly mean! Ideally manufacturers will work together and provide some kind of standard, or to at least provide a definition of signal bars and there meaning. Maybe they could simplify the signal bars and just display what type of communication you can make at that instance, emergency services, text message, phone call, video call, 3g call or data for example.

What are your thoughts on mobile phone signal bars, it would be interesting to read what peoples perceptions of the bars mean. I have always being under the impression that the more bars you have, the more signal you have and the clearer the quality of your call.
About the Author
Matthew Woodward has worked in the mobile phone industry for many years and his knowledge is second to none. If you wish to learn more about him, please visit Apple iPhone Accessories or free iPhone
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