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What is RSSI and its relation to a Wi-Fi network

RSSI, or Received Signal Strength Indicator, is an essential measurement when it comes to WiFi performance, and this article explains everything you need to know about it and provides step-by-step instructions on how to measure it using the NetSpot WiFi signal strength meter.
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It is not noticeable to a user of a receiving device, however the IEEE 802.11 devices provide their users with signal measurement data, because in fact the signal strength can vary dramatically thus affecting the functionality in wireless networking.

What Is RSSI and Why Does It Matter?

If there’s one measurement all network engineers regularly rely on, it’s RSSI. By making an effort to learn what it is, you can gain a much deeper understanding of the performance of your WiFi network, which is essential for troubleshooting all kinds of performance- and coverage-related problems to enjoy the best experience possible.

What Does RSSI Stand For?

The acronym RSSI stands for Received Signal Strength Indicator. Let’s explain what each part of this acronym means:

  • Received: Wireless signals are typically sent by a WiFi router and received by WiFi devices, such as smartphones, laptops, wireless security cameras, and others. The word received indicates that RSSI is concerned with wireless signals at the time when they're received by WiFi-enabled devices.
  • Signal strength: RSSI measures the power present in a received radio signal. In other words, it measures WiFi signal strength.
  • Indicator: This is just another word for “measurement,” which is what RSSI is.

What Is RSSI Level?

WiFi signals start gradually losing power from the moment they’re transmitted. Since RSSI is a measurement of received signal strength, it’s always negative, indicating how much signal strength has been lost.

In the real world, it’s impossible to achieve an RSSI of 0, but you want to get as close to 0 as possible. To tell you how close you are, Vendors and chipset makers typically break down RSSI values into several levels.

Each RSSI level represents a certain power level in milliwatts or decibels referenced to one milliwatt (dBm). When you test WiFi signal strength, you should always strive to discover your RSSI level. You can then use the information to determine how much room for improvement there is.

Why Does RSSI Matter?

Now that you understand the RSSI meaning, it’s time to briefly discuss why RSSI matters in the first place.

Many WiFi users rely on internet speed tests to find out how fast their internet connection is. While quick and handy, internet speed tests don’t tell the whole story because there are many different factors that influence your download and upload speeds.

One of these factors is the strength of the received radio signal, and that’s where the RSSI signal strength measurement comes in and why it’s so useful to know it. Because internet speed tests can’t tell you your RSSI, you need to equip yourself with a capable WiFi signal strength Mac app or a Windows WiFi signal strength app.

RSSI Level Meaning Explained

As we’ve already explained in the previous section of this article, RSSI values represent the relative quality of a received signal on a device.

RSSI indicates the power level being received after any possible loss at the antenna and cable level. The higher the RSSI value, the stronger the signal. When measured in negative numbers, the number that is closer to zero usually means better signal strength. As an example, -50 is a pretty good signal, -75 - is fairly reasonable, and -100 is no signal at all.

Here’s a quick overview of acceptable signal strength levels:

-50 dBm Excellent This is the highest signal strength level that can be achieved in real-world conditions. If you manage to achieve an RSSI value of -50, you should have absolutely no trouble enjoying your internet connection to its full potential.
-60 dBm Very good While not perfect, an RSSI value of -60 is still very good, and most people who don’t know what RSSI is would never guess that their signal strength could be any better.
-70 dBm Good With an RSSI of -70, you should be able to enjoy most online activities without any major slowdowns and connection drops. From time to time, you may notice that a video is buffering a bit longer than usual or that a file taking a while to download, but that should be the extend of your problems.
-80 dBm Low This is where things start to get bad. When your RSSI drops to -80, it’s highly likely that your download and upload speeds will suffer considerably, and your latency with them. Sending emails or browsing the web shouldn’t be a problem, but don’t expect to enjoy online games or high-definition video streaming without major issues.
-90 dBm Very low Most people would find an RSSI of -90 unacceptable for anything beyond the least bandwidth-intensive tasks. At this signal strength level, you are guaranteed to encounter frequent connection drops and issues with lost data packets.
-100 dBm No signal The more your RSSI nears the value of -100, the closer you get to not having any signal whatsoever.

RSSI is expressed in arbitrary units, and there’s no standardized relationship of any particular physical parameter to the RSSI reading.

Useful: What is a good WiFi signal strength?

RSSI Values and dBm

Even though RSSI and dBm are different units of measurement they both indicate the signal strength.

What Does dBm Mean?

The dBm is a power ratio of the measured power as references to one mW (milliwatt). While dBm is an absolute index, the RSSI is a relative one. RSSI is often indicated using dBm even though the relationship between the two measurements is arbitrary, as evident from the dBm meaning explanation above.

Converting RSSI to dBM

The RSSI to dBM chart above can help you understand what different RSSI values mean. In practice, you shouldn’t worry too much about the mechanics of converting RSSI to dBM because there’s no RSSI-dBm standard that all vendors universally follow.

What you should worry about instead is how to increase WiFi signal strength to reach higher RSSI values and RSSI levels.

Improving RSSI Values and dBm

There’s a lot that you can do to improve your RSSI values and dBm:

  • Upgrade your router: Modern routers feature much more signal strength-enhancing technologies than their older counterparts, so purchasing a faster router is often the simplest (but not the cheapest) way to improve your RSSI values.
Keep Your Router Updated
  • Get a stronger antenna: Some routers come with replaceable antennas. If your router is among them, then you can buy a stronger antenna for an instant signal strength boost.
Get a Stronger Antenna
  • Place your router in a more suitable spot: A capable WiFi signal analyzer (learn how to check WiFi signal strength on Windows 10) lets you create a visual map of signal coverage, making it easy to see where coverage is strong and where it is insufficient. You can then use this information to place your router in a more suitable spot to minimize signal strength loss.
Select a Good Place for Your Router
  • Change router settings: Modern routers support two or three different bands, and each band is divided into multiple channels. You can change your router settings to prioritize less used bands and channels over those that are used by other routers in your area.
  • Eliminate sources of signal interference: Everything from large electronic appliances to cordless phones can be a source of signal interference. By eliminating as many sources of signal interference as possible, you can reliably improve your signal strength.

How does RSSI relate to signal quality

Even though there is no universal solution, we'll try to break down the approximate interrelation between RSSI and quality percentage.


Signal Quality is a value from 0% to 100%. The higher the number the better the link quality. These are theoretical numbers for ideal conditions in regards to local noise. Depending on the system and device you use it can be determined differently and is based on signal strength and SNR margin. Usually the signal is usable if the quality is above the level of 25-30%.

Signal quality
Signal quality

SNR margin = signal(dBm) - noise(dBm)
E.g. if signal (RSSI) = -55db, and noise = -85db, then:
(-55db signal) - (-85db noise) = 30 SNR margin

Higher SNR margin values mean clearer signals. As an example, using the full 54 Mbps data rate will require at least 25 dB of SNR margin.

Generally,
db >= -50 db = 100% quality
db <= -100 db = 0% quality

For RSSI signal between -50db and -100db,
quality ~= 2 * (db + 100)
RSSI ~= (quality / 2) - 100

For example:
High quality: 90% ~= -55db
Medium quality: 50% ~= -75db
Low quality: 30% ~= -85db
Unusable quality: 8% ~= -96db

RSSI in 802.11 implementations

RSSI can help determine when the level of radio energy in the channel is lower than a certain point so that the network card is clear to send (CTS). At that time the packet of data can be sent. The network monitoring tool like NetSpot allows an end user to observe an RSSI value while measuring the signal strength of a WiFi network. Just for reference, Cisco Systems cards have an RSSI_Max value of 100 and will report back 101 power levels.

The 802.11 standard does not give any definition of how RSSI value and power level in mW or dBm relate. Chipset makers and vendors give their own accuracy, granularity, and range for the actual power (mW or dBm). Also the range of RSSI values is individual, ranging from 0 to RSSI_Max. RSSI value is obtained during the preamble stage of getting an 802.11 frame, not from the full frame.

To understand and use your signal strength measurements for the most efficient channel planning decisions, NetSpot shows signal strength in two ways.

RSSI in 802.11 implementations
RSSI in 802.11 implementations

The Networks Chart visualizes the location of selected networks on the 2.4 or 5 GHz bands in relation to other networks, and displays the signal strengths for each of them.

Wireless Network Detector
Wireless Network Detector

The Signal Strength graph visualizes the changes in your network’s signal strengths as you move around the space.

Still having issues even though the signal strength is at the acceptable level?

If after all measurements and checks done by a WiFi scan app like NetSpot, that showed your signal strength as acceptable, the connection is still not good, then the problem may be caused by interference. Your computer's WiFi adapter and NetSpot app can help you determine the causes of WiFi interference and improve your wifi signal strength.

How to track signal strength with NetSpot:

  • Download and install NetSpot.
  • Launch the application and give it a few seconds to gather information about nearby WiFi networks.
  • Double-click on the network you want to track to see signal strength displayed as a real-time chart.
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FAQ

What is RSSI?

RSSI stands for received signal strength indicator and represents the power of a received signal on a device. This measurement indicates the power level being received after a possible loss at the antenna and cable level. The higher RSSI value you are getting, the stronger the signal is.

How does RSSI relate to signal quality?

Signal Quality goes from 0% to 100% — the higher the better, with 100% of course being a value that is theoretical given the ideal conditions. Signal quality can be determined differently based on the devices you are using as well as signal strength and SNR margin. Usually the signal is fine if the quality is above the level of 25-30%.

This is how RSSI is related to quality percentage (these are approximate values).

  • High quality: 90% ~= -55db
  • Medium: 50% ~= -75db
  • Low: 30% ~= -85db
  • Unusable: 8% ~= -96db

How to understand and use your signal strength measurements?

The 802.11 standard does not universally define the relation between RSSI value and power level in mW or dBm. The range of RSSI values is individual to different device makers, ranging from 0 to RSSI_Max.

In NetSpot you can see signal strengths in two ways, which helps you better understand and use your signal strength measurements. First, the Networks Chart, displays the location of selected networks on the 2.4 or 5 GHz bands in relation to other networks, as well as the signal strengths for each of the networks. Second, the Signal Strength graph, displays the changes in your network’s signal strength values as you move around.

What to do when the signal strength is acceptable, but there are issues with WiFi?

If you have used a WiFi scan app like NetSpot and made sure the signal strength levels are acceptable, but you are still not happy with your connection, then the problem may be caused by interference. Use NetSpot and your computer's WiFi adapter to check for the interference and change things up a bit to avoid it.

What is a good RSSI?

That depends on what you do online and your expectations. For most people who use the internet to browse the web, watch online videos, send emails, and play multiplayer video games, an RSSI of -70 is perfectly acceptable. But if you’re paying for a very fast internet connection and want to use it to its full potential, you want to get as close to -50 as you can.

Is RSSI 48 good?

RSSI is typically represented in a negative form, so the closer the value is to 0, the strong the received signal is. However, since RSSI is a completely arbitrary value that has no relationship to any particular physical parameter, it can also be represented in a positive form, where the RSSI value is 0 to 100, with 100 being the strongest signal possible. In that case, an RSSI of 48 is a fairly reasonable value that’s more than sufficient for most regular activities.

Is RSSI 55 good?

Yes, an RSSI value of 55 is generally considered to be good enough for most users and online activities. If measured in negative numbers (with 0 meaning the best signal possible and -100 the worst), then the relative quality of a received signal on a device is slightly worse, but still acceptable.

What is a good RSSI level for the Ring doorbell?

The Ring doorbell requires a fairly strong signal because it transmits high-quality video in real-time. The manufacturer recommends an RSSI between -65 and -41, and warns about possible video issues if constantly at -60.

Is RSSI -72 good?

A received signal strength indication WiFi value of -72 is acceptable but not amazing. Using the methods described in this article, you should be able to improve it until you reach at least -60 (remember, the closer you get to zero, the better).

What does the RSSI number mean?

The RSSI number indicates how much power has been lost during signal transmission. In the real world, at least some power is always lost, so an RSSI value of -20 is typically as good as it gets.

Is RSSI measured in dB or dBm?

RSSI doesn’t officially have any units associated with it, but it’s sometimes used interchangeably with dBm, which expresses a power level in decibels (dB) with reference to one milliwatt (mW).

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to get more information about Wi-Fi, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi routers, the best apps for wireless networking, WiFi signal, etc.
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