Three essential tools for solving the worst Wi-Fi headaches
Thanks to improvements to routers and network management software, connecting to Wi-Fi is vastly easier than it used to be. But that doesn't mean the experience is seamless quite yet. Even now you can still run into problems like poor signal quality, dropped connections, lack of public hotspots, and slow speeds.
Sick of the hiccups? These three programs can help take the headache out of Wi-Fi woes.
Do your connection speeds suck even though you're paying for plenty of bandwidth? Does your laptop connection keeps dropping all the time? The problem may not be your broadband connection, but that all the other routers around you are using the same Wi-Fi channel and causing interference.
A free utility called ViStumbler can help you fix that.
Once ViStumbler's installed, fire it up and click the Scan APs button. After a few seconds, ViStumbler will show the closest Wi-Fi routers in your area. The app has some annoying sound effects, so after the scan has about 20 routers or so, you can just hit Stop.
Now you've got a list of Wi-Fi routers in your area with tons of supplemental information for them, including router names, signal strength, encryption type, and so on. But all we care about is the column that says "Channel." Find your router in the list (if you're connected to it, it should be near the top) and see what channel you're on.
Then compare it to the other routers on the list and see how many routers are sharing the same channel. If there's a ton, look at the list of routers and see which channels have fewer routers. Ideally, you'll want to use either channel 1, 6, or 11 since they are the only channels that don't overlap with each other.
Now that you know which channel to switch to, you'll have to login to your router to make the actual change.
If you don't know how to do this, your best bet is to call your Internet service provider and ask them for help, or do an online search for the make and model of your router to find a user manual.
You can also check out PCWorld's tutorial: How to Fix Your Wi-Fi Network: 7 Tips.
But then again, a bad Wi-Fi connection could be caused by your ISP providing less-than-advertised broadband speeds.
One of the easiest ways to test just that is to use Speedtest.net by Ookla, a website that quickly tests your Internet speeds. Just navigate to the site and tap the green Begin Test button to start.
Testing your broadband and Wi-Fi speeds can help you figure out if that slow Netflix streaming speed is a problem with your connection or not. It can also give you a good idea of what kind of speeds you get at various times of the day, if you're curious.
Speedtest.net isn't just a web app. There are also apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone to test what kind of connection you've got at home, a hotel, or your local cafe.
It might be due to connection limits on hotel Wi-Fi, or maybe you're in the middle of nowhere with just a Wi-Fi-only iPad and a laptop with a broadband connection, but sometimes you can only get one device to connect to the Internet.
Whatever the reason, there are many apps that can turn your laptop into a Wi-Fi hotspot so it can share its connection with a wider range of devices. One highly-recommended app for this purpose is Connectify, but the free version has limitations and I could not get it to work on my Windows 8.1 PC.
So instead I opted for MyPublicWiFi, a free desktop program that is very simple to use. MyPublicWiFi does, however, require you to right click the shortcut and select "Run as administrator," a move that not all Windows users might be comfortable with. MyPublicWiFi also has a pretty weak default password that you'll want to change to something more robust unless you like sharing your PC with strangers.
So there you have it—three essential Wi-Fi utiltiies every PC user should have in their toolkit.