RSSI or dBm: Which is Better for Signal Strength?

RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) and dBm (decibel-milliwatts) are both measures used to quantify the power level of a received radio signal, but they are used in slightly different contexts and have different units and implications.

The main difference between the two is that RSSI is an indicator of power level that’s not standard across device vendors. dBm on the other hand, is an absolute power level with a specified relationship to Watt.

Table of Contents

RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator)


  • RSSI is a relative measure of the power level that a device is receiving from a signal. It is often expressed as an integer value without a specific unit.

Context and Usage

  • RSSI is commonly used in wireless communication systems, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular networks, to provide an indication of signal strength.
  • RSSI values are device-specific and may vary between different manufacturers and models. There is no standardized scale for RSSI, but it typically ranges from 0 (no signal) to a maximum value (strong signal), which can vary.


  • Higher RSSI values indicate stronger signals.
  • The actual meaning of the RSSI value depends on the device and its calibration. For example, a Wi-Fi device might have an RSSI range of 0 to -100, where -30 would indicate a strong signal and -90 would indicate a weak signal.

dBm (Decibel-Milliwatts)


  • dBm is an absolute measure of power relative to 1 milliwatt. It is expressed in decibels (dB).

Context and Usage

  • dBm is a standardized unit used to express the power level of signals in a wide range of applications, including RF engineering, audio, and telecommunications.
  • The formula to convert milliwatts to dBm is:

PdBm = 10*log10(PmW)


  1. PmW is the power expressed in milliwatt.
  2. PdBm is the power expressed in dBm
  • This logarithmic scale allows for expressing very large or very small power levels conveniently.


  • 0 dBm corresponds to 1 milliwatt of power.
  • Positive dBm values indicate power levels greater than 1 milliwatt, while negative dBm values indicate power levels less than 1 milliwatt. For example, -30 dBm indicates a much weaker signal than 0 dBm.

Key Differences

Units and Scale

  • RSSI is a relative and often arbitrary unit, while dBm is an absolute unit based on a logarithmic scale relative to 1 milliwatt.


  • RSSI values are not standardized and vary between devices and manufacturers. dBm is a standardized measurement used universally.


  • RSSI is often used for quick, relative signal strength assessments within specific devices or systems.
  • dBm provides a precise and absolute measurement of signal power that can be used universally across different devices and systems.


Consider a Wi-Fi signal:

  • RSSI: A device might report an RSSI value of -70, which on that device’s scale indicates a moderate signal strength.
  • dBm: The same signal might be measured at -70 dBm, which quantitatively means the signal power is 0.1 nanowatts (since -70 dBm = 10^-7 mW).


  • RSSI: Relative, device-specific measure of signal strength, useful for internal comparisons.
  • dBm: Absolute, standardized measure of signal power, useful for precise and universal comparisons.

Understanding both RSSI and dBm is crucial for diagnosing and optimizing wireless communication systems, ensuring robust and reliable connectivity.