Project Fi: Signal Icons and What They All Mean


With the introduction of Project Fi, and the rapdid proliferation of its users, there have been many inquiries surround the signal icons and what they all mean.  This post aims at becoming the definitive guide to these signals and is designed to hopefully provide as much clarity as possible. The goal of this document is to be so simple, that even my mother would understand what is happening with her device and data should she see any of these indicators.

About Mobile Networks

Before we dive into the specific indicators that are seen on Project Fi, it is important to have a basic primer about mobile networks and how they relate to Project Fi.  Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of networks come and go, technologies appear and fade.  Here are the technologies available to each network…


Network Type
T-Mobile
Sprint
4G
LTE
LTE
3G
*HSPA (H)
GSM (3G)
EVDO(3G)
2G
EDGE (E)
1XRTT


4G - Newest and fastest network.  Has the capability (but not on our devices yet) for HD voice, calling and data usage at the same time (for most 4G networks, except Sprint Spark), and better capacity for more users with more bandwidth.  You can do anything on this network you could on your home computer, assuming you have a good strong connection.


3G+ - HSPA is a higher grade 3G network (in fact, AT&T called it 4G before LTE existed because of its better data speeds).  The network is only used by T-Mobile.  Great quality fallback if LTE isn’t available


3G - 3G networks are a more widespread fallback.  They provide adequate data speeds for email and messaging, but not for streaming videos.  You will not be able to talk and send data over CDMA on Sprint, but you can on T-Mobile.  

2G - If you need to call someone, this network will do.  But if you want message or load something over data, don’t bother.  It isn’t going happen. T-Mobile has the largest left over EDGE network and is supposedly swapping it out for LTE in all markets by mid/late this year.  You most likely won’t see this unless you’re traveling in rural areas.

Project Fi Indicators

Now that you have a decent understanding on they types of networks that potentially exist while using Project Fi, we can review the different connection indicators you may see in your notification shade. These inidcators help tell users what level of connectivity they are currently experiencing, including cellular, wifi and data connectivity (both mobile and WiFi).


Indicator
Explanation
Uses Mobile Data?
Has Internet?
You have a good wifi connection. Your phone will be able to send data through your wifi connection,  but can also send and receive texts through your cellular connection.  If your wifi connection becomes too weak, it will switch to cellular for everything (but then you’d have no WiFi signal)
NO
YES
There are some connectivity problems with your wifi connection, and you may not be able to get internet (or Google is down)
NO
MAYBE/NO
You have a 2G/3G/4G data connection
YES
YES
There are connectivity problems with getting onto the 2G/3G/4G tower.  You may not be able to load pages, and you may not be able to place or receive phone calls or texts
YES*
MAYBE/NO
If you are connecting to a Wi-Fi router while already connected to Fi, then while the connection is happening you will continue to use data.  When the “LTE”, “H” or “3G” goes away, you will no longer be using data


If you are already connected to Wi-Fi and a ! appears, then no data will be used, but you may not have internet.  Check on the status of your router and ISP.
YES

NO
YES

MAYBE/NO
Your Wi-Fi connection is good, but your phone can’t authenticate on the Fi network.  Texts and phone calls will be handled through Wi-Fi until the authentication issue is resolved
NO
YES
Your Wi-Fi network and Fi network are having connectivity/authentication issues
YES*
MAYBE/NO

Indicates, WiFi assistant is active. This feature helps protect you by securing your connection to high quality networks approved by Google.N/AN/A


Hopefully this document helps you understand what is going on with your Fi Phone connections.

Thanks so much to +Ziggy Dziegman+Dencil Smith, +Aleksandar Škodrić and +Techno Bill for helping me complete this document

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About Scott Greenstone

Google Top Contributor and Mentor; Healthcare IT Professional; https://plus.google.com/+ScottGreenstone

60 comments:

  1. I'll bookmark this for when (if?) I ever get my invite.
    A minor correction on your table of T-Mo vs Sprint data modes...
    CDMA "3G" data is called EVDO (or EV-DO) and CDMA "2G" data is called 1xRTT.
    "Edge" is only available on GSM carriers (in this example, T-Mobile).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Replies
    1. That just indicates when you are Roaming.

      Delete
  3. This list is incomplete.. I had a E signal instead of H the other day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Take a look at the top chart it shows 2g Edge (e) as the third option in the chart.

      Delete
  4. I saw a "G" above the cellular signal icon yesterday. Anyone know what that means?

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  5. What does it mean when the cellular strength indicator goes dark except for the bottom row where three white dots continuously stream to the right? This is accompanied by slowdown of whatever the phone is doing, whether or not it requires a data connection, and the slowdown happens in spite of the presence of a strong work connection. The slowdown lasts for just a couple of minutes & then the normal tower strength indicator returns. Slowdowns in applications that don't require a data connection can be corrected by putting phone in "airplane" mode.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What does it mean when the cellular strength indicator goes dark except for the bottom row where three white dots continuously stream to the right? This is accompanied by slowdown of whatever the phone is doing, whether or not it requires a data connection, and the slowdown happens in spite of the presence of a strong work connection. The slowdown lasts for just a couple of minutes & then the normal tower strength indicator returns. Slowdowns in applications that don't require a data connection can be corrected by putting phone in "airplane" mode.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much for this info! I always see those 3 white dots when I'm at home talking on phone and didn't know what that meant. I like Fi so far, but I'm not feeling the data leakage that appears to be a known issue. I'm supposed to get a credit on my next statement and disabled the data function when I'm at work. I hope Google can resolve this soon

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  8. How about when you just have a solid triangle for cell service. No letters, exclamation points..etc. Able to make calls, but others sometimes get voicemail and Project FI app will say not activated, please connect to wifi or data source to continue activation. But still able to make and somwetimes receive calls

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not experienced that other than during the few moments that its switching networks depending on the coverage area I am in.

      Delete
    2. I've been having the solid triangle no letters issue for a few weeks now. I noticed when I turn off wifi my LTE comes back. Is it an indication that wifi is being used for everything SK there is no data being used via the cell network?

      Delete
  9. I'm going to second the issue that was mentioned (but skipped) before regarding the grayed out signal strength indicator/triangle paired with three flashing white dots along the bottom. It only happens when the phone (Nexus 5X) refuses to do anything internet-related, but it doesn't say that there's simply no service. Haven't been able to find anything that explains this icon as of yet.

    Thoughts/comments?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have only seen those when the phone is searching for a connection. It used to happen all the time immediately upon ending a call and lasted for about 15 seconds or so. That issue has gone away and I mostly see it when I come out of an area that has no coverage at all and back into a coverage area such as when taking the train to NYC I lose complete signal in the tunnel and when I come out it searches for a second or two and connects.

      Delete
  10. What about a signal symbol with an"x" to the upper left of it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It means you mobile data is disabled

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    2. Follow up question, then. Why would my mobile data be disabled?

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    3. Follow up question, then. Why would my mobile data be disabled?

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    4. You may have accidentally disbaled it in settings.

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    5. I came here with the same question. Turns out my cell data was disabled. Not sure how it got disabled, as I would never do that, but re-enabling it worked -- I now have an "H" symbol.

      I am using Project Fi abroad in the Philippines and was about to just get a local SIM, but to my delight/disappointment, it turns out all I had to do was re-enable cell data.

      Delete
  11. What about a signal symbol with an"x" to the upper left of it?

    ReplyDelete
  12. What about the signal symbol with an "x" to the upper left of it? Happened after I installed the latest system update.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I came here with the same question. Turns out my cell data was disabled. Not sure how it got disabled, as I would never do that, but re-enabling it worked -- I now have an "H" symbol.

      I am using Project Fi abroad in the Philippines and was about to just get a local SIM, but to my delight/disappointment, it turns out all I had to do was re-enable cell data.

      Delete
  13. For wifi assistant to work does wifi also have to be turned on? Is the VPN key the only way to know you're connected?

    ReplyDelete
  14. You need wifi enabled. The key indicates that your aon WiFi assistant's VPN

    ReplyDelete
  15. I believe an "X" next to the signal icon is indicative that "Cellular Data" is disabled. Verify your settings for that option.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Scott, I recently got my Pixel with android 7.1. When I leave my home (Honolulu), within minutes, I get a notification saying 'Sign on to wifi network CABLEWIFI'. My WiFi symbol is white and strong with an 'x' in the lower right corner. When I look at CABLEWIFI, it is not locked

    Does that mean that my phone 'sees' this CABLEWIFI wifi hotspot, but I can't utilize it? If not, in my neighborhood, outside of my house, the wifi icon is not active, just my LTE cell source. Is that normal? My wifi assistant is ON.

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you seeing this in NY? I often get that issue with CableWiFi in NYC it connects sort of, but doesnt have internet. When that happens you will be using Mobile Data, not wifi data

      Do you happen to use Optimum cable?

      Delete
    2. Scott, thanks for your reply. OK, you've confirmed what I thought. In Honolulu there are two cable companies. Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telecom. Time Warner Cable is the largest, and I suspect it is their signal that I am seeing. I am not a Time Warner Cable customer.

      Thanks again.

      Delete
  17. I sometimes see a symbol that is basically the normal cell signal triangle, with LTE in the upper left, but a small x in the bottom right. I have confirmed that I haven't disabled data or anything, and when I have this symbol present, I can't seem to access the internet on my device. What does this symbol mean and do you have any advice for getting around whatever problem it represents?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I figured out this means that if your in a call or if your in a bad area it just means no data. It won't happen all the time it mainly happens when your on T-Mobile towers. I downloaded. Nice app that lets me know which tower I'm running on.

      Delete
  18. I've recently seen a key with a "g" directly above it. Amy ideas on that?

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  19. Just got my Fi phone a week ago. This article answered my questions about all he different symbols i see next to my signal, so thank you for that. I have two questions though.

    1. When outside populated areas, often times i will have full cell signal with no symbol next to it. No wifi, i'm driving, but even with this full signal indication, i am unable to place or receive calls or send text. Also, the project fi app says to connect to a network. Do you know why that is? I used to have U.S. Cellular and project fi has recently adopted U.S. Cellular as a carrier. I always got signal in these areas with U.S. Cellular, so why would I not get signal with Project Fi?

    Second, mostly informational. Why can't you message someone over 2G? We used to do it all the time before 3G came about. When 1X came out it was a big deal.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Just got my Fi phone a week ago. This article answered my questions about all he different symbols i see next to my signal, so thank you for that. I have two questions though.

    1. When outside populated areas, often times i will have full cell signal with no symbol next to it. No wifi, i'm driving, but even with this full signal indication, i am unable to place or receive calls or send text. Also, the project fi app says to connect to a network. Do you know why that is? I used to have U.S. Cellular and project fi has recently adopted U.S. Cellular as a carrier. I always got signal in these areas with U.S. Cellular, so why would I not get signal with Project Fi?

    Second, mostly informational. Why can't you message someone over 2G? We used to do it all the time before 3G came about. When 1X came out it was a big deal.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Unfortunately I can't view the right side of the tables using my phone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Websites like this are easier to view if your turn the phone sideways and let it reorient.

      Delete
  22. What if it's a X to the right most of the signal bars, and it's getting LTE? It happens to my boyfriend's pixel and not as much on mine, it's confusing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It means celullar data is disabled

      Delete
    2. But the data isn't disabled. Unless you mean the phone is disabling it by itself?

      Delete
    3. But the data isn't disabled. Unless you mean the phone is disabling it by itself? That's the big issue I'm having, is because we never disable our data, and it clearly is saying that we have a data signal it just adds the X too. So I don't know what it's trying to say.

      Delete
  23. I'm starting to get nervous. I've only seen the wi-fi assist key once (a month ago). I travel around Philadelphia and South Jersey extensively. How is it I'm not hitting any Google certified/safe wi-fi hotspots?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No need to be nervous - I have only seen it a handful of times in over 1.5 years

      Delete
  24. What is deference between 4G and LTE logo in status bar
    Why some phones shows 4G and some shows LTE?

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have a moto x pure addition and I'm always getting the H on my service bar. now from reading you say that its a form of 3g. I can only talk and text when I have it. I cant do anything with data.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If this is when you are on a call it is because you are on Sprint. You cant talk and be on the internet at the same time on sprint

      Delete
  26. Any idea what a key with a G above it means

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It indicates a WiFi that is secured by Google

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  27. Any idea what a key with a G above it means

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm using a Pixle XL. How do I know what carrier I'm using at any given time? Am I able to force it to use one of the other Google Fi carriers?

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  29. I have a Google Pixel XL. How do I know what carrier the phone is using at any given time? Am I able to change it to a different Google Fi carrier if I wanted to over ride the carrier Google Fi chooses?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I use an app called Signal Check lite to see what network I am on.

      I am not a fan of messing with the auto switching algorithms, but see here about choosing networks https://forum.xda-developers.com/nexus-6/general/project-fi-fi-dialer-codes-to-force-t3132393

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    2. Thank you Scott. The "Signal Check" app is perfect. I originally thought an icon on the screen indicated the carrier. Thank you again.

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  30. Thank you Scott. The Signal Check app works great and has helped me understand what carriers I am using.

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  31. Ever since about a week ago, I constantly have the three blinking white dots on my signal strength icon. Never had them before. My phone appears to be function with both voice and data. Very strange found it have been the latest patch. Started about that time

    ReplyDelete
  32. Ever since about a week ago, I constantly have the three blinking white dots on my signal strength icon. Never had them before. My phone appears to be function with both voice and data. Very strange found it have been the latest patch. Started about that time

    ReplyDelete