No doubt you've got a home wireless network or you've connected to hotspots at the local coffee shop or airport—but are you getting the most out of your Wi-Fi? Whether you want to strengthen, extend, bridge, secure, sniff, detect, or obscure your signal, today we've got our top 10 best Wi-Fi utilities and tweaks for the power wireless user. Photo by thms.nl.
10. Improve Coverage with Better Placement
While there are several software and hardware hacks for boosting your Wi-Fi signal (see below), there are also a few simple adjustments you can make to an unmodded access point to get the best coverage. The NY Times says:
- Place the base station centrally on an upper floor, or atop furniture, because radio waves spread best laterally and down
- Reception will be better if the signal does not have to travel at steep angles and if it doesn't have to go through thick walls, mirrors, fish tanks or anything metal
- Place wireless network components far from other devices in the house that can cause interference, like cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors or halogen lamps
- Change the default signal channel (usually set to 6) to avoid interference with neighbors' network devices
9. Extend Your Signal with a Repeater or Wire It With a Bridge
Still not getting enough bars in the basement? Have to perch yourself on the windowsill to get a usable signal from your neighbors? Get yourself a wireless signal repeater (or turn your own router into one) to extend your coverage even further.
For those of you with wired devices far from the access point who need a little connection love, a wireless bridge (sometimes called an Ethernet converter) can be used to convert your wireless signal and provide a few plugs for wired devices (like your media centre in the living room.)
8. Sniff Packet Data with Wireshark
On a wireless network and want to take a peek at some of the data passing through the air? Previously mentioned Wireshark (formerly Ethereal) is a handy packet sniffer for those of you interested in seeing the nitty gritty on your wireless network, as shown:
7. Enable WPA Encryption
Wi-Fi security isn't very secure at all, but if your access point is more secure than others, evil-doing crackers are more likely to move on. In the spirit of "best of what's offered" security, most wireless access points are set to use WEP encryption to password their connections, but WPA (supported on most modern routers and computers) is less easy to crack than WEP. To switch to WPA, on your access point's administration page, change the security level and set your WPA passphrase to something long and difficult to crack.
6. Limit MAC addresses
Along the same lines, you can limit exactly what devices can connect to your wireless network by creating a device access list of MAC addresses. (A Media Access Control address is a unique identifier for networked devices like laptops, phones, repeaters, etc.) Head on into your access point's configuration screen to set what MAC addresses can use it (like, say, all the computers in your house).
5. Stop Broadcasting Your Network's Name
Don't want to advertise your network in the surrounding area? Turn off SSID broadcasting, which will keep regular old laptops and other devices from listing your network as one of the detected options. To do so, in your access point's administration page, uncheck "Enable SSID Broadcast."
Like the other security measures mentioned above, just because SSID broadcasting is off, it won't prevent users with the right software from seeing your access point—just users with default wireless detection their computers. Speaking of the right software...
4. Detect Networks with NetStumbler
The excellent free NetStumbler software for Windows will detect all the wireless networks in your area, whether or not the SSID is broadcasted, whether or not they're passworded and how strong the signal is. Great for war-driving or internet cafe hunting, Mac users should check out MacStumbler.
3. Share Your Computer's Wired Connection Wirelessly
In a hotel room with one Ethernet jack and two laptops? Plug one computer in and have it share the internet connection wirelessly with the other. Here's how to share a wired internet connection with other computers wirelessly.
2. Boost Your Signal with Tinfoil
If high placement isn't getting your signal as far as you'd like, break out the Reynold's wrap. This video shows how a little tinfoil fashioned into a "Windsurfer" parabola can increase your signal strength several decibels.
1. Unlock Your Wi-Fi Router's Capabilities with the DD-WRT Firmware
Boost your signal, throttle bandwidth for certain applications, turn your regular old router into a signal repeater and more by installing the fabulous Linux-based DD-WRT firmware which unlocks tons of configuration options on your Wi-Fi router. Here's how to upgrade your router with the DD-WRT firmware.
Any good security measures, hacks, tweaks or apps we missed? Tell us about 'em in the comments.