How to Find the Best Wi-Fi Channel with Wireless Diagnostics in Mac OS X
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.
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:
- Hold down the OPTION key and click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar
- Choose “Open Wireless Diagnostics”, typically the very last option
- Enter the admin password and completely ignore the splash screen that launches
- Pull down the “Windows” menu and choose “Utilities”
- Select the “Wi-Fi Scan” tab, and select “Scan Now”
- 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)
This tool exists in all modern versions of OS X and it’s very easy to use, here’s how it looks as of Yosemite, note the layout of the app is slightly different from prior releases but the tool itself is largely the same, containing the wi-fi channel scanning and recommendation feature:
In the below 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.
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?