You may often wonder what governs the range and strength of your Wi-Fi router’s performance. There’s a lot of talk among industry insiders about whether adjusting a router’s antennae has any effect. Rather than get bogged down in that debate, I want to introduce you to a handy tool you can use to monitor your wireless router’s performance and aid troubleshooting when your connection seems to underperform. It’s a freeware program called inSSIDer.
At first glance, inSSIDer might seem like little more than a fancy version of Windows’ built-in wireless network selection tool — the pop-up menu that lists available connections and their signal strengths. Likewise, InSSIDer has a real-time graph of the strength of every wireless signal you could connect to. So what?
For starters, InSSIDer tends to find wireless access points that Windows omits or combines into a single, simplified header. That’s partly because InSSIDer lists all available wireless networking connections by the connecting device’s unique identifier, or MAC address. As a result, you’ll often find many more networks than those appearing in Windows’ list of potential connections.
Recently, I tackled a question about the firewall in your router and how it works to keep your data safe from harm — an excellent reason to use a router, even if you’re running a single PC on your network. But the firewall isn’t the only security trick up your router’s sleeve. In fact, when you connect to the Internet through a router, to the outside world, your system doesn’t even exist.
It goes without saying that you want your network to be fast. But there’s more to networking than raw speed, and sometimes the best connection for a given networking situation isn’t necessarily the fastest. I’ll be exploring this issue over the next few weeks in a number of posts about network standards: the technologies that help you push data to and pull it from all of your connected devices.
Which standards do you need to know about? Let’s start with the Big Four: Fast Ethernet or gigabit Ethernet for wired connections and Wireless-G or Wireless-N (also known as 802.11g and 802.11n) for . . . I’ll let you guess that one. As you’d expect, each standard is designed to deliver a particular speed. And that’s where things can become confusing.
Q: What’s this IPv6 protocol my hard-core geek friends are talking about? How does it affect my home network?
A: Like the last remnants of Slurpee getting sucked out of a Big Gulp cup by a thirsty high school kid, the current block of IP addresses — the quasi-unique identifiers that make it possible for web-connected devices to chit-chat — could be consumed by humankind’s unrelenting drive to connect every gadget imaginable to the Net.
Do you ever connect to an open, unknown wireless network? Do you leave your garage door open when you go on out of town? Do you throw water balloons at uncaged tigers?
A recent survey by Wakefield Research and the Wi-Fi Alliance revealed that 32 percent of respondents admitted to leeching from their neighbors’ open — that is, unsecured — wireless connections. Setting aside for a moment that such behavior isn’t neighborly, it can be dangerous.