Watch your Wi-Fi hotspot with these network spy tools

Are you experiencing problems with your home Wi-Fi network? Do you have difficulties connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots when you are out with your laptop? There are some useful free utilities that can help you to monitor the devices on your wireless network in your home and help when you are at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

A problem that you may have both at home and while at public Wi-Fi hotspots, is selecting which wireless network to connect to. In a public place there may be more than one wireless network that you can connect to, so how do you decide which one is best? At home, your router may have a non-obvious and obscure name. Which one do you connect to?

WirelessNetView is a simple utility that scans for Wi-Fi networks. It builds a list of them and it displays lots of useful information about them. Download WirelessNetView – choose the zip version because there is no need to install it. To run it, right click the zip file in the Downloads folder and select Extract all. Then you can open the WirelessNetView folder and double click WirelessNetView.exe to start it.

The utility immediately starts scanning for wireless networks and it displays a list of their names in the SSID column. The Average Signal column shows the signal strength and the higher the percentage, the faster and more reliable the network will be. Your own home network will most likely be the one with the highest signal strength.

 View Wi-Fi networks in range

If you are in a public place that has several Wi-Fi hotspots, you should choose the one that has the highest average signal. If you are at home or in work, you could use the information to work out if there are wireless dead spots in the building. Just leave the WirelessNetView utility running as you walk around with your laptop and you will see the average signal change with the quality of the reception. You can then select the best place to have your computer in order to get the best wireless signal, or perhaps buy a Wi-Fi booster or wireless extender to increase the signal strength.

There is a lot of information in WirelessNetView. Drag the scroll bar at the bottom of the window to see the rest.

 View Wi-Fi networks in range

Some columns are not that interesting and others that are useful are placed at the far right where they can be seen only after lots of scrolling. Position the mouse between two headings so that the pointer changes and then click and drag the column divider to hide columns you don’t want to see.

You can also click and drag a column title to change the order of columns. Here I have hidden the Last Signal column by shrinking it to nothing and have dragged the Channel column onto the screen.

 View Wi-Fi networks in range

The channel number is important because Wi-Fi networks use channels. If you and your neighbour both use the same channel, they can interfere with each other. This reduces their efficiency and slows them down.

Some intelligent routers will scan for other wireless networks and automatically select a channel that is not in use so as to avoid clashes. If you have a clash, such as with channel 11 in the screen shot above, you could try switching off the router, waiting a few seconds and then switching it back on again. (The channel can be manually set in the router, if you know how they work, but that’s for another article.)

Notice in the second screen shot that the maximum speed is displayed. Where you have a choice, such as in a public place, you could select the fastest network.

Selecting a Wi-Fi network is easy. Just click the Wi-Fi network icon at the right side of the taskbar and a list of networks is displayed (without all the useful information that is shown in WirelessNetView). Click the network you want to join.

Wireless Network Watcher is a utility that displays all the devices that are on your wirelesss network. If a device is not working properly, you could check that it can be seen on the network. Download Wireless Network Watcher, again the zip version that does not need installing is preferred, and run it.

All devices must have a unique IP address and you will usually see a pattern because the router assigns them similar, but different numbers. Apple devices have a habit of switching off the Wi-Fi when in sleep mode (when the screen is off), so wake up your iPhone and iPad or you will not see them in the list.

 Wireless Network Watcher

The router can be recognised because it has a different icon to the other devices and, of course, it says You Router in the Device Information column. Type the IP address of the router into a web browser and you can access the router’s setup and configuration, which can be useful for certain things. For example, most routers automatically assign IP addresses to devices, but they can be manually set in the router settings.

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