Wi-Fi is part and parcel of using mobile devices, but how do you set it up properly?
Even the best Wi-Fi access point won't help you if it's placed in the wrong spot of your house or apartment.
While the rule of thumb for placing Wi-Fi access points is in the middle of a room, there might be better spots to put them in - and if you have more than one access point, it's worth taking your time to work out where they go, for best coverage.
How do you work out where to put them?
You could use built in tools like the Wireless Diagnostics in Apple's OS X (soon macOS) operating system, and check things like signal levels, noise ratios and look for that inconsiderate neighbour with the MegaBlast high-power router and pick a channel with less interference from that.
They're not the easiest to use however, and it's difficult to visualise how invisible Wi-Fi radio signals propagate. Luckily, there are tools that'll help you, like the Netspot Wi-Fi site survey app - www.netspotapp.com.
Netspot is available for both Apple OS X and Microsoft Windows, and lets you work with maps of the location where you're setting up wireless connections. It's free for non-commercial use and covers a single zone.
If you set up Wi-Fi access points for a living, it's worth getting the pro version that costs US$149 (NZ$209 as of writing) which lets you survey up to 50 zones; note that the paid OS X pro version is the most fully-featured one.
The app has two modes: Discover that provides a detailed breakdown of the Wi-Fi networks at the location, and Survey that lets you draw, import or create a map of the area, and work out where the best spot is for the Wi-Fi access point.
I'll warn you now that knowledge of how Wi-Fi works is required to get the best results with Netspot. Then again, if you've gone down the rabbit hole of trying to fine tune your Wi-Fi, you've already read up on how the technology works, right?
To help you out, Netspot offers heaps of good documentation and tips on how to handle for instance multi-floor locations, how to read the heat map results of the signal scanning in the surveys, and more. The app comes with lots of useful features, including active scanning that measures the performance of the Wi-Fi connection, as you do the surveys.
Don't suffer "bad Wi-Fi": if you have a OS X or Windows laptop, Netspot is definitely worth a try to troubleshoot your wireless connection.
Faster wireless coming up
Speaking of Wi-Fi, I'm amazed how far the technology has come. The latest iteration, known as 802.11ac has a name that doesn't even hint at how quick and good Wi-Fi can be, to the point that few people will need to set up a wired connection.
If the Wi-Fi is configured properly, that is, with good access points and client devices, and see above for placement advice.
It doesn't stop with 802.11ac though. The Wi-Fi Alliance industry organisation has released a new set of tweaks for 802.11ac that promises to triple the speed of wireless connections.
Again, the name chosen for the technology update - Wi-Fi Certified ac - is clumsy, but it's looking promising with wide, 160 MHz bands in the relatively interference-free 5 GHz spectrum, improved support for many users per access point (this is a weak spot for Wi-Fi currently) and other performance tweaks.
Wi-Fi Certified ac devices should come on stream later this year, and I hope to get some of them in to try out soon.