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

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

osx go to folder   When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router

Scroll down to Wi-Fi Diagnostics and run it.

osx finder wifi diagnostics icon   When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router

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

osx wifi scan   When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your 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.

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

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

wifi analyzer best channel   When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your 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.

router 3 choose channel   When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your 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.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

17 Comments -

0 votes

Rigoberto Garcia

Excellent article and that will be very useful for my staff from support area in their daily tasks. I share with them waiting for their comments. Thank you very much James.

0 votes

Mikey Ja

Wow, great article. Thank you. I have been struggling with just this issue recently. I am afraid that my wireless repeaters are actually causing some sort of interference or otherwise causing some sort of issues with my WiFi.

0 votes

Muo TechGuy

Hmm, that shouldnt be the case. Repeaters are usually the best *solution* to bad reception, though I’m not well versed in using them. Perhaps your neighbour is juston the same channel. Did you scan to find out?

0 votes

dragonmouth

How does one find the proper channel in Linux?

0 votes
0 votes

dragonmouth

Muchas gracias.

0 votes

Eric Wardowski

Very helpful with multiple ways to check. Thank you! I did try with my MacMini but unfortunately it is Mac OS X 10.5.8 and does not have the Wi-Fi Diagnostics as you listed. :-(

0 votes
0 votes

Anonymous

Is their any way to make my microwave stop interfering other than upgrading the router? Drives me nuts when the fam uses the microwave and the whole wifi goes down.

0 votes

Muo TechGuy

Move them further apart; change the channel away (the mcirowave will likely be interfering only on a specific frequency), or switch to 5ghz frequency instead of 2.4ghz (though your router might not be able to, and your devices might be compatible).

So basically, not a lot you can do apart from use wired instead. ;(

0 votes

Starria Turner

Thanks for the lack of many networks also makes channel surfing pretty much useless. On other tech sites, I mentioned my crappy signal and how channel changing doesn’t work and get bombarded by comments on that. There are like 4 or more wifi networks out here but my wifi adapter only picks up 3. Channel changing is useless when everyone is so far apart distance-wise.

That said, this is definitely going on my Evernote so I can explain to others more extensively about wifi networks. :D

0 votes

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.

0 votes

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.

0 votes

Bogdan Chirita

Good article. I have tenthousandsofmillions of wlans arround.

0 votes

Mike Davis

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

0 votes

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.

0 votes

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.