How to Get Fast Internet Speeds with Just One Bar of Signal Strength

People using wireless internet like 5G or 4G LTE in rural areas sometimes struggle with both poor signal strength and slow internet speeds. If you’re lucky enough to live close to the right tower, though, you can get fast internet speeds for gaming and video even when your phone shows just one bar of signal strength. Find out how to identify fast and slow towers in your area.

How Signal Strength Relates to Wireless Internet Speeds

Carriers measure the signal strength of their towers in decibels relative to one milliwatt (dBm), which has no direct correlation to megabits per second (Mbps) of internet speed. There’s no formula that can convert signal strength into internet speeds because different towers have different potential speeds based on their frequency bands and bandwidth blocks.

What’s Your Tower’s Frequency Band?

Mobile internet transfers online data back and forth between your device and the nearest cell tower over radio waves. The speed and range of these transfers depends on the frequency band of the cell tower. Towers with lower frequencies are slower but can transmit online data further. Towers with higher frequencies are faster but can’t transmit online data as far.

Most 4G LTE towers have frequency bands of 600 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, or 1900 MHz. Because higher frequencies have higher potential download and upload speeds, 4G LTE tower that uses the higher frequency 1900 MHz band has faster speeds than a tower that uses the lower frequency 600 MHz band, even when the signal strength of both towers is the same.

5G towers have high frequency bands of 3100 to 3550 MHz or 3700 to 4200 MHz and ultra-high frequency bands of 27.5 to 28.35 GHz and 37 to 40 GHz. These higher frequencies have much higher potential download and upload speeds, which means even one bar of 5G might provide adequate speeds for gaming (3 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload) or standard definition video (3 Mbps download).

Want to know your tower’s frequency band? Find the towers closest to you and discover which frequency bands carriers use in your area.

What’s Your Tower’s Bandwidth Block?

Every 4G LTE tower uses a specific amount or “bandwidth block” of radio spectrum within its frequency band: 1.4 MHz, 3 MHz, 5 MHz, 10 MHz, 15 MHz, or 20 MHz. Each of these blocks can only support a limited number of devices at full speed – about 200 per 5 GHz of bandwidth.

When more devices connect to a tower than it can support at full speed at one time, it splits its limited bandwidth between more devices – which throttles speeds. If your tower has more available bandwidth because, for example, it’s a 20 MHz tower like Sprint Spark, you can get higher internet speeds with lower signal strength. Get the bandwidth details on your tower.

Stephen Kota

About Stephen Kota

Founder & Primary Author

Stephen enjoys photography, boating and gardening. He cares for pet Kois in his water garden.

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