Weak cell and WiFi signals: which is an RW phone using?


Hi again, everyone. I’ve been experimenting with the Moto e4 I got yesterday. It has a GSM SIM card. I’m trying to figure out whether its call quality/range/etc. are approximately as good as my Nexus 5X (on the same GSM network – Project Fi uses T-Mobile, and I think RW does too?). I travel a lot, so I want to decide – in the remaining 11 days of trial period – whether to keep the E4 and RW, or go back to the 5X and Fi for call quality that I know is good.

I can’t drive along a road and simultaneously use both the E4 and 5X :grinning: to compare their coverage. (I would set the 5X to “T-Mobile only” so it wouldn’t switch to CDMA. And my E4 GSM SIM only uses T-Mobile, eh? So I think it would be a fair comparison.)

One thing I’ve noticed is that – here at home, sitting in the same place – while my old Nexus 5x (from Google Project Fi) gets a steady 4 bars of signal from T-Mobile, the Moto e4 (T-Mobile, correct?) gets anywhere between a quickly-changing one bar to four bars. I understand that the number of bars doesn’t necessarily equal call quality… but it might tell me why the call sounds lousy and/or whether it’s about to drop.

When there’s WiFi, RW prefers that. But my WiFi isn’t great, and the cell service (at one bar) may not be great. I could just shut off WiFi to force the E4 to use cell. But, if that makes my call more likely to drop, the person I’m talking to won’t appreciate it! (And it means I won’t have WiFi for data.) So how can I evaluate the quality of the cell service? Here’s an idea:

While I’m on a call, the top of my screen shows both the WiFi and cell signal strengths. But it doesn’t seem to show whether the call is going via WiFi or cell service at the moment. It seems that I can pull down the Notification Area and the Republic app will say whether I’m connected to WiFi or cell. But I’d like to stay on the phone screen, not be constantly flipping back to see the current notifications.

Maybe I’m missing something, but… is there any way to have a real-time icon at the top of the screen that shows whether the phone is calling via WiFi or cell? (My old T-Mobile phone would add a blue phone icon during WiFi calling.) This might help me during times I’m getting bad call quality (or a dropped call): is it due to the WiFi or the cell connection?

Of course, I’d be glad to hear of better ways to figure out whether one bar or so of cell service will usually be reliable. Thanks, as always!


Hi @jp.rw,

While we don’t have a notification to indicate whether a call is on Wi-Fi or cell, it is indicated on the call screen.


As southpaw said it’s indicated at the top of call screen. With your E4 you should be able to see the indication change from Republic (WiFi) to Cellular if you disable WiFi during a call.

For some reason on the phones (G4 & G4 Play) I just tested the calls don’t indicate going back to the WiFi once cell is re-enabled or take an extended period of time to do so.



One caution is that bars mean nothing. Well, they mean something, but there is no standard as to what they mean so how LG displays signal on the 5X and how Moto displays signal on the E4 doesn’t necessarily correlate.

If you want to compare signal strength an app like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.simplyadvanced.ltediscovery will show you the actual db of signal strength rather than relying on the bars.


Thanks for that link, @southpaw. Somehow I missed it when I did a Forum search.

Here’s what I see in my notification area. I’ve put a red line around the part I was trying to describe in my question. I overwritten the WiFi name with “(WiFi name listed here)”.:

If I’m not on WiFi, the notification says something like “Connected to cellular network”.

No worries. Now I know to check the Phone screen (which is easy!) or the Republic app.


FYI, @louisdl, some years ago a T-Mobile engineer (back when T-Mo used to escalate support calls to a live person at a high level, if needed) told me that the bars of signal show more than the strength (dbm). They also tell how busy a cell tower is. So, he said, just because I have a cell tower a few blocks away and I get a low number of bars, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the signal is weak or my phone is faulty. If the calls drop or the data crawls, it might be because the cell tower can’t handle the load. Maybe I misunderstood, but it made sense to me.

And thanks for mentioning that app.


Even if that’s true, unless you’re comparing the same model of phone, the comparison isn’t valid because there’s no standard that manufacturer’s adhere to from one phone to another and one manufacturer to another. Given the test you’re trying they really should be on the same tower so tower usage should be a constant that doesn’t matter and dB about the performance of the phone?


Before you pull down the notification shade, as you’re looking at the notification icons, the :rw: arc should be solid white if you’re connected to Wi-Fi and a hollow outline if you’re connected to cell.

Also, if you’re not on a Wi-Fi network, you’ll lose the :wifi: icon in the status tray.


You’ve got a good point, @louisdl. My thinking was that, if a phone has zero bars of signal, it’ll probably either drop a call or not let me make a call in the first place. Also, if phone A more bars of signal than phone B, phone A is “farther from zero” so it’s less likely to drop calls than phone B, etc. And a phone with just 1 or 2 bars seems to have lower call quality than with more bars.

But, after I read your post, I did some testing with both phones. My ideas don’t seem to hold up “in real life.” I drove three or four round trips through an area of hilly country, trying one phone on one round trip and the other on the next. I used a wired (not Bluetooth) hands-free. I called a friend who has a landline and we chatted… he described how I sounded as the signal got weaker and the call dropped. I also used the phone-test service at (631)791-8378 to record my voice in a hilly area, glancing at my phone to see the number of bars, and saying that number into the recording. Then, in a flat place with lots of bars, I’d pull over and play back the recording. That way, I recorded with bad signal and played back with good signal… so I’d hope to hear the recording without interference. Bottom line: Even though my old Nexus usually had more bars than the new Moto E4, both of them got garbled and sometimes dropped a call. The playback, and my friend’s impression, showed that both phones had similar (good or bad) audio quality as the number of bars went up or down.

I’ve done enough testing. The Moto E4 worked well, I’m keeping it. Thanks again for your advice.