Wired 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
Use the built-in wifi diagnostic tool. From the find, hit CMD-SHIFT-G and paste in this location: /System/Library/CoreServices/
Scroll down to Wi-Fi Diagnostics and run it.
Hit CMD-N from the main screen to bring up the network ultilities dialog where you can perform a full scan.
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.
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.
Wifi Analyzer also takes the hard work out of it entirely with its Channel Rating screen; it’ll suggest a better channel.
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.
- 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.