Mine is an age old story of hope, desire, and frustration. Yes, I’m talking about tracking down Wi-Fi problems. We’ve all had them and considering Wi-Fi has been around since the last century solutions should be easier to come by.
They are. All you need is the right app to track down the source. Here’s the story. We moved into a new condo which boasted all the necessary components of a modern Midwesterner’s life. Two parking stalls. And, a building-wide internet connection. That’s where the problems began. Our trusty Motorola router with Wi-Fi spit out a good signal but never where our Macs, iPhones, and iPads could get a good connection.
NetSpot to the rescue. My husband’s office IT folks use it to survey, manage, and troubleshoot their Wi-Fi signals, and there’s a free version for home use. Other than it seems to be a bit geeky– but not that much; after all, I used it– there is nothing to not like about NetSpot.
Here’s the geeky part.
NetSpot grabs information from nearby Wi-Fi networks, lists it in a nice table, and displays a real time graph of data which can show you where the Wi-Fi signals are weak and where they are not.
Just run NetSpot on your Mac notebook, cruise around the house, and you’ll see where the Wi-Fi signal ebbs and flows, gets stronger or drops. A poor Wi-Fi signal can be the result of many issues, some of which combine to reduce a signal’s strength, some of which you can fix, some you cannot (moving steel and concrete walls falls into the latter).
If there are Wi-Fi channel conflicts, NetSpot can identify them so you can make adjustments to get a better signal. It works on both 5GHz and 2.4Ghz bands and that covers most every home and office situation.
How does all this work?
Easy. And complicated, depending upon your network, nearby networks, your building structure, and the location of your Wi-Fi setup.
That’s where NetSpot’s geeky tech becomes fun. Think of this app as your Mac’s heatmap sensor. Install it on a Mac, set it up, walk around the house or office and it tracks the Wi-Fi signals from room to room, giving you a real time analysis from every access point (we had two, and both were in the wrong place for optimum signals, and for some reason our next door neighbor had four access points so we coordinated with them to change channels to avoid conflicts).
In geekspeak terms NetSpot surveys the obvious culprits.
- Signal Level
- Number of Access Points
- Noise Level
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio
- Signal-to-Interference Ratio
- Frequency Band Coverage
Additionally, NetSpot conducts active surveys to test transmit rates and upload/download speeds. That helps to determine the best location for your Wi-Fi access point. The visualizations are just plain cool to view. Heat map, meet cool factor.
Not every feature in NetSpot is available in the free version, and for home use it’s perfect, but there’s enough data being gathered, sliced, and diced to make it perfect for IT admin, consultants, or know-it-all wannabes to go for the Pro version.
It took us about half an hour to isolate the problems in our Wi-Fi setup, and another half hour to collaborate with neighbors, and move our Wi-Fi routers to optimize the signal. If there’s a better way to improve your Wi-Fi signal I haven’t found it. It even works on Windows.