If you live in an apartment block or make a living in IT support, then you’ll know the pain and heartache that can happen when there are a number of neighboring WiFi networks all trying to compete with each other! It’s a common frustration shared by many and usually we just put up with it or, worse still, assume it’s either an internet connection issue or hardware fault.
WiFi Explorer, by Adrián Granados, aims to make the process of tweaking your wireless network as straightforward as possible by providing you with detailed information about all the wireless networks your Mac can detect. Does it succeed? Let’s find out.
WiFi Explorer can provide you with detailed information about all the currently available 2.4GHz and 5GHZ wireless networks that your Mac can detect as well as providing useful graphing information about their signal strength and channel selection. It’s the swiss-army knife of wireless network management.
It’s important to note at this stage that WiFi Explorer doesn’t manage your network, nor does it make any changes to it or your Mac. It’s a completely informative app that serves only to provide you with as much information as possible for you to then make any changes. It’s a passive app that has no configuration features beyond some of its own preferences, so you really can’t break anything by using it!
When you launch WiFi Explorer, you’re presented with all the current information regarding currently detected wireless networks. WiFi Explorer constantly scans and updates every few seconds.
The main window displays all the nearby wireless networks that your Mac can detect. As the data is provided within a table, you’re then able to organise the list by whatever criteria you’d like, such as signal strength or network name.
You’d be surprised at how much information you can gather from just detecting a wireless network, to the point it can look a little overwhelming. The information displayed ranges from the network name, the signal strength, the brand of wireless access point, and more. Thankfully, we can hide some of these columns via the apps’ preferences so you can focus on the parts you need.
WiFI Explorer also features a filter and search facility in the toolbar so you can narrow down the networks you’re interested in if the list has a large number of networks displayed.
If you’ve used WiFi scanners (such as KisMac or iStumbler) before then you’ll probably feel right at home. If not, then the lack of on-screen descriptions and a rather sparse help guide does make understanding it a little bit of a harder process. This is certainly a tool that’s primarily developed for those with previous knowledge of wireless network troubleshooting, which means for novice users there’s a steeper learning curve. Don’t let this stop you getting to grips with it, however. As I mentioned before, this is a passive app that has no controls or settings that could cause your Mac to stop working: its only function is to detect and inform.
The information panel below the network list lets us view even more information regarding the network we’ve selected. For more experienced users then this information will no doubt be useful. For novice users, it might be a bit overwhelming.
Thank Goodness for Graphs!
Thankfully, the wide variety of information is limited to the main window. Along the top of the information are a number of tabs you can select and the only information they have are easy to read graphs. If you’re wanting to get the most out of your wireless network then these are the only tabs you need since they can provide you with a visual reference of how your network is performing against neighbouring ones.
WiFi Explorer overlays all the selected networks together on the same graphs to give you a much better idea of how they are all operating together. It’s this feature that lets you troubleshoot your own network and if it shows you have a lower signal strength than your neighbours then you can start moving your access point’s location until you get a signal strength that is much stronger.
As you can see in the example above, most of the networks are on channel 1 – this means more interference and unreliability, not to mention slower speeds. If I had a network operating on channel 1, WiFi Explorer has already provided me with some useful information and I can then change my wireless network to a different channel.
For users having trouble maintaining a good wireless network who often find your Wi-Fi menu bar shows a large number of neighbouring networks then WiFi Explorer might be the app that helps you fix them once and for all.
Its lack of any comprehensive documentation and interface descriptions may leave some users scratching their head. Despite this, it’s still an app I would recommend as the benefits it can provide (not to mention the headaches it can prevent) mean putting in the time to understand the app well worth it.
An extremely useful tool to troubleshoot wireless network problems that will definitely help you get the most out of your access point. The lack of explanations regarding terminology and an overwhelming details pane means more novice users will need to do some homework to get the most out of it.8