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Wireless networks may not have the reliability of wired networks, but being able to walk around with your laptop, or to connect your mobile devices to the Internet affordably also has its perks.
That being said, maintaining uniform network signal strength throughout your house isn’t always easy. Other wireless devices, the position of your wireless access points, or even the lay-out of your home can interfere with your wireless signal. Not so long ago, Ryan took this problem on in Wireless Feng Shui: How To Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception.
When you’re optimizing your wireless network, you’ll want to check on your progress. Rather than waiting until you run into another dead spot, you can make a map of your wireless network’s signal strength throughout the building.
NetSpot is a free application for Mac OS X that allows you to do just that; make a map of your wireless signal strength. This map, and the results projected on it, can then be manipulated and analyzed to further optimize the lay-out of your wireless access node or nodes.
This won’t be finished with the click of a button, but the process doesn’t take too long from start to finish. The process of generating the map is two-fold – mapping the building layout and testing the wireless strength.
Mapping The Area Lay-Out
Firstly, to be able to generate a map of your wireless signal strength, you need a map of the area. You can either upload your map as an image file, or draw your own map in the application. There are some basic drawing tools available for this purpose, including a pencil, a line tool and several basic shapes. These tools suffice for creating a moderately simple lay-out. For more complex projects, you may want to generate an image in a different application, or draw it by hand and upload the image.
You can create multiple areas in one project, so instead of drawing one map for the entire building, it might be beneficial to create different maps for different floors, or even for different rooms, to keep things manageable. Once you’re done, just specify the distance between two points on your area lay-out, and you’re good to go.
Sampling Your Wireless Network Signal
Now that you have a map of the area, it’s time to gather some information about your wireless network signal. We do this by sampling the network in several discrete points. This is done by carrying your laptop to a specific points in the room, and click the corresponding points on the map.
As you walk around the area and take your samples, the application will start coloring your map. The area covered in green is the area that can be analyzed by the application in the next step. Ideally, you should keep taking samples until all areas of interest are covered in green. When you’re done, just click on Stop scan.
Analyzing Your Network Coverage
NetStop will generate a map of your network coverage as soon as you stop scanning additional points. By default, NetStop includes all wireless networks that cross a certain signal threshold. For the map to be relevant, you’ll want to toggle all those other networks off in the left sidebar.
NetSpot offers five different visualizations; signal-to-noise ratio, signal level, quantity of acces points, noise level and signal-to-interference ratio. You can toggle through these visualizations in the top right corner of the application. When you’re done, you can export all or any of these visualizations in a PDF file, or just save your project as a NetSpot file, so you can tweak and add to it at a later point in time.
What tools do you use to optimize your wireless Internet network at your home?