Aug 04

It doesn’t matter what kind of wireless network you are running at your home,  be it an Apple Airport base station, or one of many other brands like D-Link, Asus, Billion, Netgear, or even a branded one like a Bigpond home wirless network,  they all suffer the problem of network congestion.  By network congestion I mean there are so many other people in your street or block of units with wireless equipment and they all interfere with each other – a bit like lots of people talking together in a crowded room. This  can manifest itself as reduced range on your WiFi network, a drop in speed, your wireless signal dropping out,  or your wireless  signal strength going up and down  randomly. Here’s  how to change your wireless channel so that you won’t clash with the other people around you.

In Australia there are 13 wireless channels in the USA there are only 11. When you go and buy a wireless router and bring it home and plug it in it will default  to one of those channels, most likely the middle one – Channel 6.  If your next door neighbours have done the same thing,  chances are all your wireless networks are on channel 6 and  therefore  they are interfering with each other. This  does not reduce the power that your wireless base station puts out, but it does make it harder to your computer to pick up  the signal because it will be picking up next door’s network as well – it’s a bit like trying to listen to a conversation in a noisy room. The best thing to do is change the channel of your wireless device.   There is a slight complication though,  because although there are 11 channels, they all overlap!  Have a look  at this picture:

wireless channels - click to enlarge

All the 11 channels overlap and so the way to use channels that don’t overlap is to use either channel 1, 6 or 11. It used to be the case  that if you are having trouble on say channel 6 you could just switch to channel 1 or 11 and  find some free space.  But as more and more people go wireless these channels are filling up.  For  an example, look at all the wireless networks where I live. (I have used a ubiqity AirOS on a Picostation to get this information, but you can use an iphone app such as WiFiFoFum or a great app for mac OSX called wifi scanner from here.)

A list of the local wireless networks interfering with my home network!

These are all the signals I get sitting in my lounge room at home! And this is in a rural area  with quite spread out houses!  I’d hate to see what was like living in the city. Notice  that although there are 7 networks, most of them are on channel 1, 6 or 11. So I would be better choosing a channel between these, like  3 or 9. This will overlap with the other channels but it will be better than trying to compete directly with them! All wireless routers come with information on how to choose a different channel –  might be time to dig out the user manual!

A Telstra big pond wireless router

Finding the BEST frequency for your location.

I find the best way to work out  the optimum frequency for your wireless network is by trial and error,  and using a little iPhone utility called WiFiFoFum.

Firstly go into your wireless router – you will need the password for this, and change the Channel to 1.

On the airport base station it  this looks like this under Settings, Airport, Wireless:

Selecting a wireless channel

When you have done this, restart your wireless modem, then measure the signal strength (RSSI) using WiFiFoFum, eg -89.

Change the Channel to 2, then do it again.

You will end up with some results like this:

Channel 1 88-89

Channel 2 92-94

Channel 3 84-87

Channel 4 84-87

Channel 5 82-84

Channel 6 83-85 and so on.

Pick the channel that has the best signal – note that a lower number is better as it is measured in -dB so higher means a weaker signal. For me it was channel 5.

You may want to repeat the test another time and another day  because people can turn their wireless modems on and off at different times in the day.

How do I find my wireless  base station settings?

For most wireless routers  you need to surf to their web page from your browser –  Safari or Firefox. To  do this you need the IP  address of your router. To find it  go into your Apple Menu (top left of your screen) , then  system preferences, then network, then click on Airport, then Advanced, then TCP/IP, then have a look at what it says next to Router:

It will be a number like 10.0.0.138, or 168.0.0.1, or 192.168.1.1 or something similar.

Type that number into Safari as if it were a webpage!

Accessing your wireless router to change the channel

This will take you to your wireless Router page (you will need a password that came with the router – check your documentation)  where you can change the channel settings.

You will need to restart the  wireless router each time you change a setting.

If you  have an Apple AirPort base Station you don’t need to go through Safari, you can just use the ‘ airport admin’  utility in your utilities folder.

This is not really something to set and forget –  because other people might change their settings too!

21 Responses to “How to get a good range on your wireless network”

  1. Mike says:

    If you have an Android phone, a really handy program that tests what channel surrounding Wi-Fi networks are on is called “Wifi Analyzer”. Free and easy to use.

    See http://www.appbrain.com/app/com.farproc.wifi.analyzer

  2. Mike says:

    WiFi-Fo-Fum is also available free on Android as well as iPhone.

    http://www.appbrain.com/app/com.dynamicallyloaded.wififofum

  3. admin says:

    Yes they are good apps Mike – thanks.

  4. Really good write-up, but this doesn’t really to work with my router ip, any helpful hints?

  5. Murf says:

    Hi, thanks for your excellent site!
    We have noticed a lot of wifi congestion at home too – so I think it’s time to change channels.
    I bought ‘wifi scanner’ for the laptop, and am about to start the process of cycling through my wifi channels to see what gives the best signal.
    I have a time capsule plugged into a netgear modem- how do I change the channel on the the time capsule (which is what I use for my wifi signal)?
    Do I need to change anything on my modem?- or just the time capsule….
    If I am unable to compare the best frequency from my iphone, does that matter? (Unfortunately apple has taken all those handy wifi checking apps off the iphone app site).
    Thanks for your help.

  6. bob says:

    I think you are confused about your number of channels. In the US there are 11 and in Australia there are 13.

  7. admin says:

    Thanks bob that is right.

  8. Hastings says:

    Information was helpful. Is it possible to have no connectivity at all with some channels? my router was set to use 11 but when i tried say 5, i was disconnected and was not able to connect back till the changes were reversed.

  9. Hastings says:

    b.w. I use Linksys WAG120N

  10. Melanie says:

    Am staying with a relative who has broadband which is very weak as we are well away from the exchange.

    There are many routers in the area – all of our neighbours use channel 11. The modem also has ‘channel 11′ written on the bottom.

    I have been unable to access the router using the usual ‘admin/password’ info. I have, instead, plugged the modem into my Time Capsule and now it thinks it is on channel 1.

    I still feel I am missing something though and would like to ask if, regardless of my cunning manoeuvre, I have not completed my task and still need to chance the channel on the router?

    Nice piece by the way. Informative and easy to follow.

  11. max Manshel says:

    Can not locate WiFifofum is it omly OS 4+ ?

    • Wayne says:

      Wel it’s gone and so has every other App that measures wifi strength! It seems Apple has disabled or banned the ability to measure wifi signal strength on the iPhone.

  12. max Manshel says:

    I am using istubler to get best signal stregth

  13. kay davenport says:

    none of these ideas solved my problem.

  14. mark says:

    doesnt help me one bit

  15. funny says:

    wifi signal scan function is prohibited by the app store now.

  16. Sue says:

    Awesome thanks a bunch, worked right away.

  17. Jr_Lilian says:

    Nice advise!! I should have found here before calling att, today. As I had a problem to connect to home wifi network to iphone and samsung, I was instructed by remote access the same thing by paying $50 despite of having u-verse box 3 days ago. I found the connection issue when my iphone failed to have Netflix.

  18. Ethan's Mom says:

    Great advice – worked perfectly, though I accessed the router a different way, I was able to tell it to “change the channel” and now I have full strength again. Sure appreciate your advice!

  19. Judy says:

    This was very helpful. My wifi kept dropping intermittently all day long. I changed the channel it is working a lot better.
    Thanks for posting help like this.

  20. This did not help me. I’m running OS 10.9.5 and in ‘System Preferences’ it does not show the router address. It says ‘Configure IPv6′ AUTOMATICALLY. If I switch it to manually, I would have to type in a router address, and I do not have one.

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