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How to Check Your Wi-Fi Signal Strength

Sometimes a website isn’t too slow, it’s your internet connection that is slow. If a web page is taking forever to load, it could be that your Wi-Fi connection is weak. You might be too far away from your Wi-Fi router or maybe the walls are too thick and are blocking your signal.

Knowing your Wi-Fi signal strength can help you understand why your connection isn’t reliable and how you can fix this issue throughout your home.

What is Wi-Fi signal strength?

Wi-Fi signal strength determines whether your internet connection is reliable or not. The stronger the signal is, the more reliable your connection will be. The way that Wi-Fi signal strength is measured and represented is different than how to measure Wi-Fi speed. However, both speed and signal strength rely on one another so that you can have the best Wi-Fi experience and connection possible.

Wireless signal strength is measured in decibel milliwatts (dBm). The measurement is represented using negative numbers. The higher the number the better the signal. This can get confusing because a high number signal is written as the smallest number value with a negative sign in front of it. For example, a Wi-Fi signal strength of -30 dBm is considered a perfect signal. A Wi-Fi signal strength of -90 dBm is considered not connected.

Why does Wi-Fi Signal Strength Matter?

Your Wi-Fi signal strength matters because without a strong one your Wi-Fi connection will suffer. A weak signal can lead to slow speeds, dropouts or internet disconnection.

Just because your internet seems slow doesn’t always mean that your Wi-Fi signal strength is weak, though. If your internet seems slow, here are a few steps to try first:

Step 1: Reboot your router

Rebooting your router will often do the trick. If your internet is still slow after a reboot, see step 2.

Step 2: Check your Wi-Fi

Your Wi-Fi in general could have an issue. Check it by using the internet with a device that is connected through an ethernet cable. If you are still having a problem, then it could be your Wi-Fi network. If this is the case, see step 3.

Step 3: Check your Wi-Fi signal strength

When resetting your router doesn’t help the problem and using your devices with an ethernet connection worked, then it’s likely the problem is with your Wi-Fi signal strength. Here’s how to check yours:

How to check your signal strength (the easy way)

There’s an “easy way” and a “advanced way” to check your Wi-Fi signal strength. First, let’s look at the easy way.

Any device you use (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, etc.) will have a Wi-Fi connection indicator. Generally, this indicator is the universal Wi-Fi symbol, which has four to five curved bars. The more that are filled solid, the stronger your connection is.

It’s a good idea to check multiple devices. For example, checking your phone, tablet and laptop if you have them.

After you identify where the Wi-Fi indicator is on your devices, walk throughout your space holding each device. Pay attention to the indicator and where the bars increase or decrease. Note how far you are from your router. This will give you a good idea about where the signal is weak or drops in your space, and how far you can be from your router with your devices. If you have a short range, you can look into Wi-Fi extenders to extend your router’s Wi-Fi signal to every corner of your home.

Performing this (free) Wi-Fi signal strength test is easy to do and will give you a baseline idea of where your signal strength is without specific numbers.

However, just like when you use free tools to check your Wi-Fi speeds, you do get results but they are not as detailed or precise as more advanced, paid tools.

How to check your signal strength (a more advanced way)

As we said before, more advanced tools will give you specific number results. For these results you will need to use Wi-Fi analyzer apps or platforms.

When using an advanced tool, here’s what to look for:

You can measure your Wi-Fi signal in a few ways. Measurements to look for include:

  • Milliwatts (mW)
  • Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI)
  • Decibels per milliwatt (dBm)

The most common is decibels per milliwatt (dBm). Most internet service providers (ISP) use this measurement. If an ISP uses RSSI, they usually convert it to dBm anyways.

Measurements of dBm display as negative numbers on a scale from -30 to -90. Check out this article about understanding the dBm scale and what a good Wi-Fi signal should be.

What to do

If you are using a Mac device, you can check on the device itself. To check on a Mac, hold down the option key and click on the Wi-Fi symbol indicator at the top of your screen. You should see grayed out text that shows the dBm measure in the RSSI entry field.

Measuring your Wi-Fi signal strength on a p
hone, tablet or Windows computer, you will likely need to use a Wi-Fi analyzer tool as suggested. Most of these tools will do the work for you, but understanding how to read the results will be helpful.

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