How to Optimize Your Wireless Network Channel

Filed under: Internet Optimization 

wireless network

When you use a wireless network at home, range and performance can be influenced by a lot of factors. The location of your wireless router as well as the location of your PC and/or laptop can make a lot of difference. Concrete walls have a strong influence on WiFi signals so too many concrete walls in between the communication devices will reduce the signal strength, and as a result the performance.

But range and obstacles are not the only possible problems with wireless networks. What about your neighbors? If they are using a wireless network, chances are, you are both using the same frequency, which would cause interference and again loss of signal quality. Since wireless internet access is so common these days, it’s better to check that too.

Here’s How You Can Improve Your Wi-Fi Network!

Depending on the location of your equipment, you can try to change the direction of your antennas. If your router has a built-in antenna, consider hanging it on a wall instead of placing it horizontally on a cabinet to change antenna direction. Most routers will come with instructions on best positioning for maximum range.

If you want to further optimize the range and performance of your wireless network, you might need to change the frequency of your WiFi communication. There is a dedicated bandwidth for WiFi networks, in which multiple channels are defined. The problem is that many vendors configure their hardware to use a default channel. Typically this is channel 6, since it is the middle of the range (1 to 11 in the US, up to 13 for Europe).

To find out if you need to change your wireless network frequency, you need to know what channel you are using and if the other channels are better. There are many tools available for this, and one of them is called NetStumbler. The current version is 0.4.

The program can be installed with the default options. Once you start the application, it will automatically start a scan of the wireless networks in your surroundings.

Network Stumbler

In the results, you can see all detected networks grouped by MAC address, SSID or channel. The colored icon in front of the MAC address indicates the signal strength. Using these details, you can first check how many networks are using the same channel as you are. You will need to know your SSID of course (either printed at the bottom of your wireless router, if it came from your ISP, or check the network settings on your computer’s wireless card). Ideally, there should not be (too) many wireless networks on the same channel, but if there are, you want to make sure they have low signal strength.

If there are too many wireless networks on the same channel, try changing the channel to improve your wireless network range and performance. This needs to be done in the wireless router or access point. The hardware will come with instructions on how to change the WiFi channel. Your laptop or PC’s wireless card will automatically switch to the new channel.

If you are using a laptop, you can also use the program to see where your signal strength is best. Move around with the laptop and see which location in your house has the best signal strength. You can use the colored icon as well as the “signal” columns to assess the network quality. Make sure the network scanning is active to ensure the values are updated while you move around.

Vista Support

Version 0.4 of NetStumbler unfortunately does not support Windows versions beyond XP. A new version is being developed that is expected to add Vista support as well as Windows 7.
For Windows Vista and Windows 7 there are other programs that can be used alternatively.
As suggested in the comments, inSSIDer is one possibility, WirelessNetView is another simple program that requires no installation at all, and lastly you could also try Homedale, which is a more recent developed program to monitor your WLAN network. The last option, Homedale also allows you to show the signal strength over time if you want to check variations in your WiFi signal.

Further WiFi Optimizing

Separate from the right channel for your WiFi network, there are a few more things you should consider when optimizing the wireless network. The first is to use only the network modes that are required. By default a lot of hardware (and software) is configured for all standards (802.11 a/b/g/n), but if you don’t need support for all, just enable the mode that you need (for example 802.11 n only).

A last important aspect is the wireless network security. For best security make sure you use WPA2-PSK or WPA2-Personal. But when choosing between TKIP and AES, the AES encryption is preferred as it has a lower impact on the performance of the WLAN routers. This obviously also helps in the overall wireless network performance.

Using these WiFi tips, you can easily improve your wireless internet access speed, or solve problems with your wireless internet connection. Good luck!


7 Comments to “How to Optimize Your Wireless Network Channel”

  1. john says:

    quite useful! really.

  2. Rohen says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I run a Home Network and the SONY VAIO upstairs has an awful connection when trying to access my PC on the floor below. Watching movies or playing games is very choppy up to the point that it makes it unberable.

    Will try your tips though.

  3. MikeB says:

    Netstumbler doesn’t work with Vista (or 64-it XP). Try inSSIDer instead:

  4. Anthony says:

    @MikeB – Correct, the current version of NetStumbler does not work on Vista and Windows 7, but the author is working on an update that will support Vista and Windows 7. Details on the site.
    Thanks for sharing the inSSIDer alternative. Do you know if that works on Windows 7?

  5. Wolf says:

    inSSIDer works fine on Windows 7, both 32 & 64bit, and it is free.

  6. roland says:

    wow! Thanks for the hint.
    this has helped me a lot in understanding more about wireless networking.


  7. jmontoto says:

    macstumbler works for mac.

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