How to Measure Your Wi-Fi Signal Strength

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The performance of a Wi-Fi wireless network connection greatly depends on radio signal strength. On the path between the wireless access point and a connected device, the signal strength in each direction determines the data rate available on that link.

Use one or more of the following methods to determine the signal strength of your Wi-Fi connection at any point in time:

  • O/S apps and utility programs: Microsoft Windows (and other network operating systems) contain built-in utility to monitor wireless network connection status. In the Network Connections section of Windows Control Panel, opening the Status window of the Wireless Network Connection icon reveals a Signal Strength meter. This meter shows up to five green bars representing the current strength on a quality scale from "Very Low" (1 bar) to "Excellent" (5 bars). Many smartphone apps exist with similar functionality for Android and Apple phones.
  • Wireless adapter utility programsSome manufacturers of wireless network hardware and/or notebook computers provide their own software applications that also monitor wireless signal strength. These applications often report signal strength and quality based on a percentage from 0-100% and additional detail tailored specifically to the vendor's brand of hardware.

    The operating system utility and the vendor hardware utility may display the same information in different formats. For example, a connection with an Excellent 5-bar rating in Windows may show in the vendor software as Excellent with a percentage rating anywhere between 80-100%. Vendor utilities often can tap into extra hardware instrumentation to calculate more precisely radio signal levels as measured in decibels (dB).
  • Wi-Fi locators: A Wi-Fi locator device is designed to scan radio frequencies in the local area and detect signal strength of nearby wireless access points. Wi-Fi locators exist in the form of small hardware gadgets designed to fit on a keychain. Most Wi-Fi locators use a set of between four and six LEDs to indicate signal strength in units of "bars" similar to the Microsoft Windows utility. Unlike the above methods, Wi-Fi locator devices do not measure the strength of your actual connection - they only predict the strength of a connection based on actual radio co

    Note that different tools in the above categories may sometimes conflicting results. For example, one utility may show a signal strength of "82%" and another "80%" for the same connection, or one Wi-Fi locator may show three bars out of five while another shows four bars out of five. These variations are generally caused by small differences in how the utilities collect samples and the timing they use to average them together to report an overall rating.

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