Use Your Mac To Troubleshoot Your Wi-Fi Connection

Justin Pot 17-02-2016

Want a better Wi-Fi connection on your MacBook? First you’ll want to teach yourself how wireless networks function, and then start optimizing them. OS X comes with tools that can help.


We’ve talked about optimizing your home’s Wi-Fi reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Wi-Fi Reception in Your House Setting up a Wi-Fi router for optimum coverage isn't as easy as you think. Use these tips to cover your whole house with Wi-Fi! Read More , and explained the wireless networking terms that everyone should know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Do you know the difference between an "access point" and an "ad hoc network? What is a "wireless repeater" and how can it improve your home network? Read More , but if you really want to improve things you need an accurate way of gauging your connection.

Fortunately your MacBook comes with a number of useful tools for diagnosing network issues, plus there are a handful of third party tools that give you even more information.

Summarise Your Current Connection

A lot of Mac users don’t know this, but OS X comes with some fairly advanced wireless monitoring tools out-of-the-box. You just need to know where to find them. You probably know that if you click the Wi-Fi icon in the menubar, you’ll get a list of nearby wireless networks.


Here’s a useful trick: hold the option key, then click the Wi-Fi icon in the menubar. You’ll see a lot more information about the network you’re currently connected to.



There’s many things your Mac’s option key can do 20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key The Command steals the limelight on your Mac's keyboard, but it’s the Option key that is the real hero. Read More , but this one is really useful for seeing a summary of your current network. Here’s what all this information means, starting from the top:

That’s quite a bit of information, all easy to access with just a keystroke and a click. But if you want more, you don’t have to look very far: a world of data is just a few keystrokes away.

See Information About Other Nearby Networks

Click the Wi-Fi icon again while holding the option key, but this time click Open Wireless Diagnostics.



This will open an app primarily designed to help guide you through difficulties with your wireless connection.


Instead of following the steps, however, click Window in the menubar, then click Scan. This will open a window that lets you see all the information we saw above, but for every network visible your Mac can detect. Your current connection can be seen in bold.



There’s a lot of ways you can use this information, particularly if your Wifi signal is currently weak or regularly dropping out. To start: if there are too many networks using the same channel in one area, interference is going to be high.

Speaking of interference: if you want to get an idea of where in your house the signal is seriously being interfered with, click Window in the menubar again, then click Performance. You’ll get a realtime monitor:



Walk around and you can see how your movement affects performance. You want to keep the rate, quality and signal high, and the noise as low as possible. It’s neat, but let’s keep going down this rabbit hole and find even more information.

Third Party Apps Offer Even More Information

The tools included with OS X give you access to all sorts of key points, but if you want even more there are a number of third party tools out there that can help you learn even more.

For example: NetSpot is free for non-commercial use, and gives you access to more information than the above methods.


Unlike Apple’s included tool, this will continue to scan every visible network every 10 seconds. This means you can walk around and see where your signal is weakest, and which other networks are causing interference. The Signal To Noise ratio indicator is a big help here, because you can quickly ascertain how the signal changes as you walk around.

And it gets better: as we’ve outlined before, you can actually walk around and make a map of your Wi-Fi signal Map Your Wireless Network Signal Strength With NetSpot Read More . This helps you find weak points that you can address by changing your router’s channel, moving your router, or using a Wi-Fi extender How Do Wi-Fi Extenders Work? Wi-Fi Boosters, Explained Wi-Fi extenders (also called Wi-Fi boosters or Wi-Fi repeaters) can boost your wireless router's Wi-Fi signal. Read More .

There are some other programs worth checking out too:


How Do You Scan Wireless Connections On Your Mac?

These are the best Wi-Fi tools we’ve found for the Mac, but we’re always amazed at what our readers manage to find. So we want to know: what tools have you used to improve your Mac’s Wi-Fi signal?

And while you’re thinking about Wi-Fi, why not read up on how to see if someone’s stealing your Wi-Fi How to Check If Someone Is Stealing Your WiFi & What You Can Do About It Read More , or how to hide your WiFi network How to Hide Your Wi-Fi Network and Prevent It From Being Seen Wireless networks are less secure than wired networks. Want to hide your router? Here's how to do that and why you shouldn't. Read More . Though, of course, the above methods will reveal hidden Wi-Fi networks, which kind of makes hiding them feel pointless, but you get the idea.

Let us know any tips you have to share, and anything else you’d like to know, in the comments below.

Related topics: Computer Networks, OS X El Capitan, Troubleshooting, Wi-Fi.

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