Wi-Fi is everywhere these days. Well, Wi-Fi is almost everywhere. A benefit of living in the city is all I have to do to find a few dozen Wi-Fi hotspots, many of them free, is to fire up a Mac, iPhone, or iPad and turn on Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is in almost every computing device you can find these days, but troubleshooting, and improving the Wi-Fi connection and speed of a Wi-Fi network can be problematic. Thankfully, the Mac App Store has a number of useful Wi-Fi utilities which find and track all sorts of wireless signals.
Here are three that I like, and I use them all (on different Macs).
Explore And Scan Wi-Fi
The near ubiquity of Wi-Fi devices and hotspots means networks can tend to overlap which degrades performance. Any one of these three Mac tools can help you find wireless networks and troubleshoot problems.
First on my list is my favorite. It’s called WiFi Explorer which uses your Mac to scan for nearby wireless hotspots and offers a real time graph of network signals.
As with most Wi-Fi scanners, this one scans for networks, names (SSIDs), MAC addresses (not to be confused with your Mac), device manufacturer, signal strength, noise, the all important Wi-Fi channel, band, security configuration and the device’s supported data rates.
WiFi Explorer determines signal quality ratings based upon the standard signal-to-noise ratio and converts from dBm to percentage to make it easier to understand. Metrics can be saved and viewed later, too, and if you’re in an area with many Wi-Fi networks nearby, fullscreen mode is supported.
Not bad for a few dollars and many five star ratings. Nearly as popular and with a few more visual bells and whistles is WiFi Scanner which does much of what WiFi Explorer does, but also offers support for both 2.4GHz and 5Ghz networks, all channel bandwidths (20 to 160MHz), and comes with built-in Wi-Fi speed testing.
A few of the extra features I like about WiFi Scanner include the options to display the number of devices connected to each access point, channel utilization, and speed testing on autopilot (repeating). Each access point in the scan can be give a custom label for easier identification.
The real time graphs are a handy and quick way to check on the specific performance of an individual network hotspot.
If you’re on a budget but still want useful features, there’s WiFi Signal, a baby brother to WiFi Explorer and from the same app developer, which gives you change for a dollar, but features Mac Menubar access, real time network performance graphs, and many– but not all- of the features found in the other two.
Any of these three Mac Wi-Fi scanner tools can be used to troubleshoot a network, find weak spots, or determine which channel an access point could be switched to for improved performance.
You’re not likely to use a Wi-Fi scanner app every day, but they’re very useful when trying to setup or improve performance in an existing network.