When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router

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what is the best channel to use on a wireless routerWired ethernet will always be better than wireless connections, but sometimes you don’t have a choice – all manner of mobile devices need wifi. There is however one very basic step you can take which will give you an instant speed boost – picking a unique wifi channel that no one else is using.

Today I’ll show you how to scan the wifi spectrum and pick the best channel to use on your wireless router.

What’s All This About Channels?

Wifi operates on different channels – typically 13 of them but this can vary by local regulations (only 11 in the US) – representing the full spectrum of the available frequency space for wifi. Each channel represents an increment of 5MHz, however Wifi is broadcast over 20MHz in total, so a signal broadcast on channel 5 is actually going to cover 4, 5, 6, half of 3 and half of 7!

The more networks that operate on the same channel, the more interference each one experiences and the worse the signal you will get (and hence, worse performance and speed). Ideally then, you want to set up your network on a channel that is unused and furthest away from any neighbouring channels.

Of course, channel selection isn’t the only factor affecting speed, so be sure to read Ryans article on complete Wireless Feng Shui for more great tips.

Finding The Right Channel

OSX

Use the built-in wifi diagnostic tool. From the find, hit CMD-SHIFT-G and paste in this location: /System/Library/CoreServices/

what is the best channel to use on a wireless router

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Scroll down to Wi-Fi Diagnostics and run it.

what is the best channel to use on a wireless router

Hit CMD-N from the main screen to bring up the network ultilities dialog where you can perform a full scan.

best wireless channel for router

Windows

Use the free and critically acclaimed MetaGeek inSSIDer, which comes complete with pretty graphs to quickly identify free channels and overlap. Check out the video for an overview, or just download it and trust me when I say it’s awesome.

Android

Wifi Analyzer is the best, and free; includes a nice graph, and running on your mobile will give you the advantage of being able to move around, so it can also help to identify wifi deadspots within the home.

best wireless channel for router

Wifi Analyzer also takes the hard work out of it entirely with its Channel Rating screen; it’ll suggest a better channel.

best wireless channel for router

iPhone

Due to restrictions on access to private frameworks, no wifi analyzers are available on stock iPhones. If you are jailbroken, $1.99 will get you Wifi Analyzer from the BigBoss repo, and though I can’t confirm if it’s made by the same developers as the Android app, it does appear to offer the same functionality.

Using a combination of Wifi Analyzer on my Android and the built in OSX diagnostic tool, I found I was overlapping on channel 1 with 2 other networks; the signal strength was fairly dismal.

Setting The Right Channel – An Example

I’ll be performing this on my Virgin Media Superhub router, a stock cable modem.

  • Access the router homepage at 192.168.0.1 (yours may be 192.168.1.1 – or check the back of the modem) and log in.
  • Click on Wifi Settings.
  • This router actually has an AUTO setting for finding the best channel, which suggested channel 9, whilst my Wifi analyzer suggested channel 14. If you’re wondering why my settings show a pair of channels (such as 1+5), it’s because this is how 802.11n wifi works – by bonding two channels. If you’re operating on b/g speed, you’ll only see a single channel listed.

what is the best channel to use on a wireless router

  • Hit Save Settings; in my case, the change was instant, and no restarts were required. Older devices may need to be unplugged momentarily.

I tried a variety of channels, and in reality it didn’t make that much difference to the signal strength. Why? For starters, my router is downstairs, and the signal isn’t particularly strong. Changing the channel won’t help if you have bad reception.

Secondly, there’s not that many networks in my sleepy suburban part of London; if you live in the city and can’t count the number of networks listed on one hand, then this is going to make much more of a difference to you.

Thirdly, on an n-speed router where channels are paired, there’s very little chance that you’ll find two channels without some overlap – switching to the 5GHz band can help, but this reduces device compatibility. Me, I’ll be plugging my ethernet cable back in now, thank you very much!

Did you try to find a better channel to use on your wireless router, and did you get a performance boost? Let us know in the comments, and here’s hoping you had better luck than me.

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Comments (19)
  • M

    Just FYI, two years later:
    MetaGeek InSSIDer is no longer free, apparently. Not too expensive, though.

  • Stargazer

    I can certainly recommend Android Wifi Analyzer. Was never sure about our wifi performance and realised we needed to do something when our newly acquired Chromecast kept buffering video. Turned out that our router’s auto channel selection decided to select channel 6, which both our nearest neighbours were using. A hint for Wifi Analyzer users: you can selectively disable which channels Wifi Analyzer will recommend. This is useful as, for example, here in the UK it otherwise often recommends 14, which is not available in Europe.

  • Subscription Accounts

    Changing the channel can also have another bonus, particularly if you are getting static noises on wireless house phones when the internet is being used, Changing the channel can reduce or eliminate this noise as weel.

  • Bogdan Chirita

    Good article. I have tenthousandsofmillions of wlans arround.

    • Mike Davis

      living outside the us, it seem that the wifi is auto locked to the channel.

    • Muo TechGuy

      I think thats router specific mike – in fact the US is the most restricted in terms of wifi channels. In other countries, you can choose from as many as 14 different channels – only 11 in the US.

  • joe pianta

    Very helpful, but my router was setting the best channel automatically. And thats cool to know the n was selecting two channels.

    What is the CC at the end of the Network Utilities screen? My neighbor’s Wi-Fi has ‘US’ listed where mine has nothing and there are none listed in the example above.

    • Muo TechGuy

      I suspect that might mean Country Code; you live in the US, I assume? Some routers are international, so they need to be set on the number of possible channels according to that country. In the case of the US, only 11 channels are available I think; you can change the code, but you’d be breaking the law if you broadcast outside of those 11 channels. If you hack the firmware, you can sometimes even “overclock” the wifi, and broadcast at far higher signal strengths than the law allows too.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.