The signal bars in your iPhone’s status bar are a great visual indicator of how good your cellular reception is, but they are not very accurate. Instead of the actual amount of signal you are receiving, they just give you a general range and you have no idea if three of the four bars are actually a good connection or not. But there is a trick to see the real numbers.
Believe it or not, this trick has actually been around for a long time. In iOS 10 and older, you could unlock a hidden network strength meter in your status bar. In fact, doing this visually changes the signal bars in your status bar to decibels-milliwatts (dBm), the absolute unit used to measure your reception from a cell tower. You can see what I mean in the images below.
Ultimately, all good things have to end and iOS 11 broke this trick, so there’s no more way to switch to dBm in your status bar if you want more accurate receipt data. However, there is a way in iOS 11, 12, 13 and 14 to still see your signal strength in dBm – you just don’t get the convenience of it getting stuck in your status bar.
Unfortunately, in iOS 11, 12, 13, and 14, you can only view your 4G LTE reception strength up to the nearest cell tower if you have an iPhone with an Intel wireless modem, not a Qualcomm modem. While you can access similar data readings in both versions, only the following iPhone models with the Intel wireless chips can show you the dBm you want.
- iPhone SE (2nd generation): A2275, A2296, A2298
- iPhone 11: A2111, A2221, A2223
- iPhone 11 Pro: A2160, A2215, A2217
- iPhone 11 Pro Max: A2161, A2218, A2220
- iPhone XR.: A1984, A2105, A2106, A2107, A2108
- iPhone XS.: A1920, A2097, A2098, A2100
- iPhone XS. Max. Height: A1921, A2101, A2102, A2104
- iPhone X: A1901
- iPhone 8: A1905
- iPhone 8 Plus: A1897
- iPhone 7: A1778
- iPhone 7 Plus: A1784
The newer iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max models support 5G speeds, but all models use Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 wireless modems, not Intel-built modems.
To see if your model number matches any of the iPhones above, go to:
- iOS 11: Settings -> General -> About -> Legal -> Regulatory
- iOS 12: Settings -> General -> Regulatory
- iOS 13, iOS 14: Settings -> General -> Legal and Regulatory
At the top of the page (iOS 11 and 12) or near the center (iOS 13 and above) you will see your A #### model number. If your model is not in the list above, you can still try the following steps just in case, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work.
Step 1: Use the field test selector code
To see your current signal strength in actual numbers, you need to enter field test mode on your iPhone. This can be done exactly as before in iOS 10 and below, using the following code.
3001 # 12345 # *
So open your Phone app in the “Keyboard” tab, type in that code above and follow it up by pressing the green call button. If you see the Field Test menu that looks on the bottom left, you don’t have an Intel chip, but if it looks like the menu on the right, you do have an Intel chip and you can continue.
On iPhones with iOS 14 and above, the field test menu looks different, but it still contains the same data as you will see below.
Step 2: Find your receipt numbers
From the Main Field Test menu, select “LTE” and then “Serving Cell Meas” on the next page. On this page you want to see the numbers next to rsrp0 and rsrp1The former is the cell tower you are currently connected to, while the latter is the closest backup tower. RSRP refers to “reference signal received power.”
If you are using iOS 14 and later, you will see a page called ‘Dashboard’ and you can scroll down to rsrp0 and rsrp1 numbers for LTE. You can also tap the list icon to open “All Statistics” and then select “Serving Cell Meas” underneath LTE
Step 3: Determine your real receipt
For our purposes here, you just want to pay attention to the rsrp0 numbers, the closest thing to the numbers that would appear in your status bar in iOS 10 and older. The number should be displayed as a negative number, as this is how the dBm signal strength is measured. The closer the negative number is to 0, the better your reception will be. The larger the negative number, the worse your reception will be. Then compare your dBM to the one in the list below.
- -90 or higher = Excellent
- -91 to -105 = Good
- -106 to -120 = Fair
- -121 to -124 = bad
- -125 = No signal
So in my case my iPhone with iOS 11 reads -100, which falls into the reception category “Good”. You can also see that my signal bars are 4/4, which is probably because that fourth bar contains everything from the “Good” category and above. So, while reception may be good, it’s not the best it could be, although you’ll rarely experience “excellent” reception unless you’re standing next to a cell tower, even if your iPhone says 4/4 bars.
For my iPhone with iOS 14, the value is between -102 and -112, meaning ‘good’ to ‘fair’. I don’t actually have a SIM card in this device, but you can still see the signal strength for the nearest towers.
This is as good as it gets
For iPhones that don’t use Intel cellular radio chips, you can still scroll through the Field Test menu to get an idea of your reception, but nothing is very accurate. For example, some people say you can use “Measured RSRP” to calculate your actual receipt, but it is completely imprecise in my experience. The “Measured RSSI” number may also be remarkable as it stands for “indicator of received signal strength”, but again, in my experience this is far from accurate.
Maybe one day the Field Test tool will be just as useful as it is on iOS 10 and below. It seemed like it got worse from iOS 11 onwards, but iOS 14 gave it a much-needed facelift. Yet a facelift does not necessarily equate to more functionality.
Any apps that could read this data before iOS 11 no longer work (at least none that I found) so if you were hoping for a quick way to see your reception in dBm using a third party app then I will be very disappointed.
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