In many of our homes and offices, the connection between our devices — Mac or iOS — and the Internet is all dependent on the strength and speed of our WiFi setup. When things aren’t working quite the way you want them to, it may be time to troubleshoot that setup. Perhaps the router isn’t in a good location, or you’re on a crowded WiFi channel. Whatever the situation, WiFi Explorer (US$14.99) may be just the tool to get your WiFi network running at its fastest.
The OS X app, which is compatible with any version of the Mac OS from 10.7 (Lion) to 10.11 (El Capitan), uses a large and constantly updated database of vendor information about individual WiFi routers to identify all of the routers in your near vicinity. In its default mode, WiFi Explorer displays a list of all network names, BSSIDs (basic service set identification — the MAC address of the router), the vendor that built the device, the signal strength, the channel or channels being used, the width of that channel, the band that the router is on (usually 2.4 or 5 GHz), and the modes in which it operates (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac).
In the preferences for WiFi Explorer, a huge number of other network attributes can be added to the columns already displayed.
Clicking on any of the device listings allows the user to view the signal strength over time and at the current time. There’s also an indication of which devices are on the same WiFi channel, which can be a hint to select a different channel.
Frankly, I am impressed with the sheer power of WiFi Explorer. When I worked as an IT project manager in the previous decade, my networking experts often used dedicated equipment costing thousands of dollars that didn’t provide as much information in such an easy-to-understand format. And later, when I was a Mac consultant, I could have used WiFi Explorer during the many times I had to instead had to use trial-and-error methods to troubleshoot network problems.
In my testing, I was able to see that by just physically moving my rather dated Apple AirPort Extreme less than a foot, my average signal strength over time jumped about 3 percent. That’s not a huge amount, but it demonstrated to me just how important placement of a router can be.
If I have any complaint about WiFi Explorer, it’s that I’d like to see the developer — Adrian Granados — create a how-to guide detailing use of WiFi Explorer in day-to-day troubleshooting. For novice users, the concepts of WiFi channel conflicts, signal strength and overlapping, and how to determine what changes to make to your router setup to improve WiFi performance are totally lacking and could make the app even more useful.
For Mac professionals who need to perform WiFi troubleshooting on a regular basis, WiFi Explorer is a must-have tool for your kit of apps. Even if you’re not a consultant or network engineer, WiFi Explorer can be just the app to use to fine-tune your own home or office network or even justify upgrading your router.