We moved. That means unhooking an old Wi-Fi network system and moving it to a new home and try to get the whole mess to work again. When it comes to setting up a Wi-Fi network for our Macs and iDevices, I prefer to set it and forget it. Or, just plain forget it.
Once we moved in and got everything set up, our condo neighbor stopped by to say hello, and conversation turned to iPhones, iPads, Macs, and her flaky Wi-Fi network. My husband and I gave her a hand, looked at the arcane interface, and decided quickly, ‘We don’t do Windows.‘ Instead, I let her borrow the Airport Express that we take with us when we travel. While setting that up I checked out a few Wi-Fi apps to check on the signal strength and any potential channel conflicts. And, that, dear reader, is the extent of my Wi-Fi knowledge and experience.
The app I used is called WiFi Explorer. It costs a few bucks but does a good job of scanning and finding local Wi-Fi networks, identifying nearby channels and conflicts, checks signal strength of each Wi-Fi network, adds some security checks, and other items that geek folks love to tinker with.
If you’ve never done this kind of scanning and tweaking before then WiFi Explorer is a good app to use. It graphically lays out local Wi-Fi networks, displays signal quality based on signal-to-noise ratio, and gives you a quick picture of all the nearby networks.
From what I can see it works with most Wi-Fi networks– 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and manages to give you views of both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands as well as 20, 40, 80 and 160 MHz channels, which is geek talk for ‘pretty much everything you’ll need at home or in a small office.’
Data columns are selectable and sortable so you can choose to view just what’s important to you, and nearby networks can be customized by color, and data columns are editable, too. Yep, you guessed it. There’s also a fullscreen mode so you can watch network traffic in real time.
While checking on local Wi-Fi networks and connected devices can be interesting to the point of being fun, the real value here is to help you troubleshoot a local network that doesn’t seem to be performing as you want. For example, many networks are setup on the same channel. Wi-Fi Explorer can show you which networks conflict with your network. Change the channel, and performance improves.
The app is good for checking out weak spots in your home or office. Just set it up on a Mac notebook, and walk around. While you walk make sure to check the signal strength meter of your network. That’s an easy way to find weak spots so you can move a Wi-Fi router to improve the signal.
While Wi-Fi Explorer is Mac only and available on the Mac App Store, there is a free try-before-you-buy option on the developer’s website. This is as Mac-like an app as you can get and earns the more than 500 five star reviews.