If you’ve wanted a wireless utility to help identify wireless issues, then Wifi Explorer (App store download) is your tool. It is a useful wireless network scanner utility for home and office environments. This is my WiFi Explorer Review.
WiFi Explorer Review
The application will scan the wireless spectrum and display the networks in a list and also on a graph. The amount of details gathered from Wifi Explorer is very useful for troubleshooting and for planning.
With its ease of use, graphical visualization, and intuitive interface it gets the job done quickly. It provides the capability of customizing the output of information by adding and removing columns and the ability to save your results for review at another time. On top of that, there’s ability to save metrics gathered from each scan.
The main screen will display all the information upfront which can be a bit overwhelming. The left pane will display different sets of results. You can filter out the results by clicking on any dropdown.
In this example, I have selected to display all 802.11b/g/n access points.
The top window pane displays the list of wireless networks.
You have the basic information columns which includes signal strength, channel for each SSID, which frequency band it is using, channel width, and more. These image shows the default columns. You can add additional columns by right clicking on any column at the top and enabling the column you need.
One useful column that is not displayed by default is Channel Utilization.
The Channel Utilization column appears. I don’t want to know what DirtyTed is up to.
The bottom half of the window has four tabs displaying different information about any selected wireless network.
- Network Details
- Signal Strength
- Advanced Details
Under the Network Details tab are details received in beacon frames. The details can be used to help gather information to plan or troubleshoot your wireless network. Details provided include:
- Frequency band
- Max Data Rate
- Basic Data Rates
- Security Mode
- Channel Width
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio
The graph shows the signal strength of the selected wireless network. Also displayed is the comparison of the SSID’s 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signal strength. A useful feature displays other wireless networks on the same channel and their respective signal strength.
You have the option of changing the selected color using the small box on the bottom right.
The Signal Strength tab places all wireless networks seen on a single graph. It will get crowded so to see where your wireless network is on the graph, just select the network on the top list and it will be highlighted.
My favorite tab is the Channels tab. This is where you view what is talking on which channel. In the United States 2.4 GHz frequency there are only three non overlapping channels:
In the 2.4 GHz section you can see it getting crowded. Initially, my network (D-NET) was using channel 1 but was in contention with other wireless networks on channel 1 and others overlapping it. One network in particular was very strong on channel 1 using a 40 MHz channel width. Using Wifi Explorer I was able to find out that channel 11 was the best option.
On 5 GHz we have UNII-1, UNII-2 and UNII-3. These channels are much less crowded and right now are less susceptible to interference compared to 2.4 GHz.
- UNII-1 – 36, 40, 44, 48
- UNII-2 52, 56, 60, 64
- UNII-2 Extended – 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140
- UNII-3 – 149, 153, 157, 161
I primarily use 5 GHz at home and as of this writing I am still staying clear of the others. A network is highlighted if you have selected a network in the list on the top half of the window.
The channels along the bottom in blue are DFS channels. There is an option to hide the DFS channels if there are no networks using them which I will show you later.
The Advanced Details tab includes many more details about a selected network. In the screenshot above are some of the details of my own wireless network. I have expanded some areas to display the application’s capabilities.
This information can be obtained through a packet capture but Wifi Explorer makes the information easily presentable.
Under the General section are various options. The two settings I have changed are the display of signal strength as dBm from percent and the deletion of networks not seen after 2 minutes.
The Columns section is where you can select which columns you want displayed by default.
The Advanced section has two options:
- Hide DFS channels if no networks are using them
- Automatically check for updates
I have both selected. Wifi Explorer gets updated regularly so I recommend leaving it enabled.
Wifi Explorer is a Mac OSX application which you can download from the App store. I use it often to check the state of a wireless network and what potential issues may occur.
Finding overlapping wireless networks is easily made visible to help identify issues with your network. You can use the graphs or sort it by networks using the same channel. The Channel Utilization column can help pin point why you may be seeing poor throughput or maybe you need to find the best channel for you to use.
Signal strength is a common indicator for all of us. Verify that you can receive the minimum required signal strength you should be receiving and keep an eye out for other networks contending with yours. If your spectrum is like mine, move to 5 GHz if you can and ditch 2.4 GHz.
If you have more interest in wireless, check out the CWNA Study Guide.