How to Find the Best Wi-Fi Channel with Wireless Diagnostics in Mac OS X

Dec 11, 2013 - 23 Comments

Just about every semi-technical person has setup a wireless router at home or in the office, and in that process has wondered which broadcast channel would be the best to use. Sure, some wi-fi routers make it simple and will recommend a channel on their own, but often it’s left up to the user to decide. Let’s face it, most people have absolutely no idea what would be the best wi-fi channel, let alone which to use for a 5GHz wireless N network versus a 2.4GHz 802.11b/g network, or even what the difference between the networks is. For average people, it’s a bunch of meaningless technical jargon, they just want wireless internet, and they want it to be fast, right? Thankfully, OS X Mavericks makes this simple when a wi-fi router doesn’t, with a simple solution offered through the bundled wi-fi scanner app that works with every single wi-fi router brand out there.

How to find the best wi-fi channels to use

Detecting the Best Wi-Fi Broadcast Channels to Use with a Wireless Router

To get started, you’ll need to jump into the Wireless Diagnostics Utilities app first:

  1. Hold down the OPTION key and click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar
  2. Choose “Open Wireless Diagnostics”, typically the very last option
  3. Option-Click the Wi-Fi menu to access Wireless Diagnostics tool in Mac OS X

  4. Enter the admin password and completely ignore the splash screen that launches
  5. Pull down the “Windows” menu and choose “Utilities”
  6. Select the “Wi-Fi Scan” tab, and select “Scan Now”
  7. When finished, look at the bottom right for the best channels recommendations:
    • Best 2.4 GHz Channels (usually 802.11b/g)
    • Best 5 GHz Channels (usually 802.11a/n)
  8. Now log in to your wi-fi router (this is going to vary depending on the manufacturer) and make the channel changes as necessary – typically this means using a web browser to point at the local router IP (192.168.0.1, etc)

Scan and find the best Wi-Fi channels to use

In the screen shot example, the best channels chosen are 2 and 3 for 2.4 GHz, and 149 and 157 for 5 GHz.

As mentioned before, changing the broadcast channel will vary depending on the router manufacturer and the IP address used. Using a Netgear router with an IP of 192.168.1.1 as an example, simply point any web browser to that IP, log in using the router admin login (often admin/admin), and look for the “Channel” option, typically located within a “Wireless Settings” or “Broadcast Settings” preference region. Change the appropriate channels for each protocol, save settings, and you’re good to go.

Changing Wi-Fi broadcast channel to the best option

The wi-fi network should now be faster with less interference for all devices on the network, not just the Mac used to scan and detect the best channels. Going further, the amazing OS X Wireless Diagnostics tool can also be used to optimize wi-fi networks further by measuring signal strength as you physically rearrange the placement of a the wireless router in relation to computer hardware. This works exceptionally well and is worth taking the little time to perfect, particularly fi you feel a wireless network is sluggish or problematic.

An Optimal Channel Detecting Trick for iOS Users

Don’t have access to a Mac or the Wireless Diagnostics utility? Maybe you don’t have OS X Mavericks yet? For users who have an iPhone or cellular iPad with the iOS Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot feature, you can use a roundabout trick to detect the best channel to use for a router too. All you need to do is place the iPad or iPhone in the general region of the hardware that will access the primary wireless router, then temporarily turn on the Personal Hotspot. iOS will automatically scan, detect, and choose the best possible channel to use much like the OS X scanner tool, thus one can simply connect to that broadcasted hotspot, see the channel it chose, then turn off the hotspot feature and reconfigure the router to use that broadcast channel. Nifty trick, huh?

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

23 Comments

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  1. R says:

    One of the neighboring wi-fi routers is still using WEP? Oh dear

  2. Perry says:

    What about the “automatic” channel setting for Airport extreme?? Is that just as good?

  3. Jeff says:

    Shame on Apple for recommending channels other than 1, 6, & 11 for the 2.4GHz band. You should NEVER use those other channels. You have to realize that the frequencies these 2.4GHz channels use overlap with the frequencies of adjacent channels. You will only cause more interference issues for neighboring wireless routers that are on channels 1,6, & 11, and for your wireless router that is using one of these non-standard channels. Don’t do it!

  4. marco says:

    Please only use non-overlapping channels for 2.4GHz networks. Channels to use are 1, 6 or 11. And It’s better to use the same channel then the next to it e.g. all neighbor wi-fis are on channel 1 then you set your wi-fi to channel 6 or 11 NOT to 2! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels

  5. jengjay says:

    is this just for Mavericks?

  6. Douglas says:

    This article has solved a problem that has been driving me nuts for the past four years. I have spent countless hours trying to sort out wifi dead spots in our kitchen which were interfering with streaming. In 20 minutes, following the advice here, it is totally solved. This is why OsX Daily is now, and always will be, the first resource I use for intelligent and knowledgable Mac advice. I cannot thank you enough.

  7. Haven says:

    There are no recommendations in the wifi tab as shown here, the box at the bottom simply doesn’t exist. Help?

    • OSXDaily says:

      The “Best Channels” feature is new to OS X Mavericks, you must be running 10.9 (or newer) to see the recommendations.

      • Javier says:

        I don’t see the Utilities menu showed on the screenshot. I’ve Mavericks 10.9

      • Franco says:

        Same here. I am running 10.9, all I get is a splash screen. Clicking on “Continue” starts a “diagnose”, followed by two options, “Monitor my wifi connection” and “Continue to summary”. No toolbars resp., no Wifi tab or anything like it.

      • Enon says:

        The feature exists in Mountain Lion, just in a different place. In the ‘Utilities’ window, choose the ‘Info’ tab (after you’ve done the scan) and look for the ‘Wireless Environment’ section. It will have recommended channels.

  8. ianbuckley says:

    It treats all located routers as possible interfere, including your own. You may already be on the best channel but it will recommend a different one. Note the signal strength before making changes and after. You need to run it again after making the changes and it will probably recommend your original set channel.

  9. Ariel says:

    And what about the ‘Select Best Channel’ option available on the Airport Extreme? Is that the best option?

  10. Jeff says:

    Please excuse my ignorance but on the 2.4GHz side of things, my router has “l” and “u” options for several channels (e.g. I can choose “5u” or “5l”).

    Which one should I be using?

    When the app recommends a specific channel, is it referring to the “u” or “l” mode?

  11. sky says:

    Hi, pointed here by “The Loop”.

    Is there any additional information when using an Apple Time capsule?

  12. Adam says:

    Thank you thank you thank you!!! For the past couple years my internet has been dropping quite frequently from my iMac. Even though I don’t have Mavericks I was able to pick a channel less used in my neighborhood and the results have been fantastic. No more dropped Wi-Fi. I’m sending lots of good karma your way. I am elated and over on the Apple forums everybody is pointing fingers at hardware and software but this hits the nail on the head. Well done.

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