For most of us, creating a Wi-Fi home network is pretty much a case of buying a wireless ADSL router, plugging it into the phone line and plonking it down in the corner. We then grab our wireless device, switch on the Wi-Fi adapter, get a signal, log in and away we go. However, the transmission of radio waves (for that’s what a Wi-Fi access point is really doing) is a bit of a black art and just because you’re “getting a signal” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a high-quality one.
All Android devices will give you a signal strength icon on the status bar. It’s a simple way of notifying you of the relative signal strength of your Wi-Fi signal. The problem is relative to what?
The efficacy of Wi-Fi transmission is affected by many things – the transmission frequency, interference from other devices, distance between the access point and Wi-Fi device, even walls and furniture. In fact, they all play such a part that one spot in a room may give you horrible reception while another spot two feet away could see it improve considerably. And given signal strength is one of the key requirements to maximising data transfer speeds, you can see why it’s important. However, the tiny signal strength icon doesn’t give you much of a guide to find out.
That’s where WiFi Analyzer on Google Play (http://tinyurl.com/7v8xgnf) comes in. It has a couple of features I think are a must-have. First, don’t think of this as just an Android app or just for your Android device. This app will help you find the best point for maximising your Wi-Fi signal strength not just for your Android device but for any Wi-Fi capable device, including your notebook.
The first of its two important features is its signal-strength meter, which doesn’t just report in “bars” but gives you the actual signal strength in dBm or decibels references to one milliwatt (mW). The important thing is that it provides far more precision in measuring signal strength. Not only that, WiFi Analyzer can graph the signal strength for you. Turn it on and move around your room and you’ll soon see where the “dead spots” are for reception.
The other feature helps address a growing concern of mine – the overcrowding of Wi-Fi frequencies. Wi-Fi typically operates over two frequency ranges or “bands”. The older 802.11b and g standards use 2.4GHz while 802.11a uses 5GHz. The latest 802.11n standard can use either.
Now there are issues with both frequency bands. The 2.4GHz band is home not only to wireless networking but a truckload of other devices – everything from microwave ovens to wireless keyboards to baby monitors operate on this band. Get a few of these devices operating at once in the same household and you’d expect to see your wireless networking speeds reduce as a result.
The 5GHz band is far less crowded so interference is less of an issue. However, the higher in frequency you go, the shorter the wavelength of those radio transmissions and that means they’re more affected by walls and furniture and other obstructions. The result is you’re unlikely to get the same data throughput rates at 5GHz in a typical home as you would with 2.4GHz.
Both frequency bands are divided into smaller chunks or “channels” and you can generally choose when setting up your Wi-Fi access point which of those channels you want to use. It’s a further way of trying to reduce interference between devices on the same band. Now WiFi Analyzer can’t do much about interference from non-network devices but if you live in the vicinity of multiple Wi-Fi access points, it’ll show you the channels they are on, enabling you to choose a less crowded channel.
If you’re struggling to get decent wireless data transfer speeds or even just decent Wi-Fi signal strength, there are ways to fix it and if you have an Android device, WiFi Analyzer is a great tool to keep on hand to help improve Wi-Fi speed.
STEP-BY-STEP: Using WiFi Analyzer
STEP 1: Install WiFi Analyzer, make sure your device’s Wi-Fi adapter is switched on and launch the app. The first screen will show you all nearby Wi-Fi access points and the band channels they’re using. If you’re setting up a new access point, just choose a channel not being used by someone else. If they’re all being used, choose the one with the lowest signal strength (this’ll provide the least interference with yours).
STEP 2: If you’re struggling for signal strength, swipe left and use the signal strength meter. Walk around your room and watch the signal strength change. Higher readings are better so note where in the room (or your home) those higher readings occur.
STEP 3: If you suspect another gadget is causing interference, swipe left again and use the graph option. Turn the gadget on and off and if the signal strength drops and goes back up, it’s causing interference. If you can’t avoid the interfering device, try a different channel.
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