How to Find the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router on Any Operating System

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If you live in an apartment complex, you’ve probably noticed more than just the passive-aggressive network IDs that your neighbors use—very likely you’ve had problems with your wireless connections dropping out, or just not being as fast as you’d like. This often has to do with the Wi-Fi channels in your area.

If you’re on the same Wi-Fi channel as a lot of your neighbors, you’ll experience a lot of interference with their networks—so it’s best to choose a different channel with fewer people on it. When you do, you’ll reduce that interference and improve your WI-Fi signal.

The first step, though, is finding out which channel is least congested in your area. These tools will help you identify which nearby networks are using which channels.

Note that Wi-Fi channels overlap with nearby channels. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the most frequently used for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, and these three are the only ones that don’t overlap with each other.

Windows: NirSoft WifiInfoView

We previously recommended inSSIDer for this on Windows, but it’s become paid software. You probably don’t want to pay $20 just to figure out which Wi-Fi channel is ideal, so use a free tool instead.

Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector is very powerful, but it’s a bit overkill for this. We liked NIrSoft’s WifiInfoView instead — its simple interface does the job and it doesn’t need any installation. Launch the tool, locate the Channel header, and click it to sort by Wi-Fi channel. Here, we can see that channel 6 looks a bit cluttered — we might want to switch to channel 1 instead.

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Mac: Wireless Diagnostics

Believe it or not, macOS actually has this feature integrated. To access it, hold the Option key and click the Wi-Fi icon on the menu bar at the top of your screen. Select “Open Wireless Diagnostics.”

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Ignore the wizard that appears. Instead, click the Window menu and select Utilities.

Select the Wi-Fi Scan tab and click Scan Now. The “Best 2.4 GHz Channels” and “Best 5 GHz” Channels” fields will recommend the ideal Wi-Fi channels you should be using on your router.

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Linux: The iwlist Command

You could use a graphical app like Wifi Radar for this on Linux, but you’d have to install it first. Instead, you might as well just use the terminal. The command here is installed by default on Ubuntu and other popular Linux distributions, so it’s the fastest method. Don’t fear the terminal!

Open a Terminal and run the following command:

sudo iwlist wlan0 scan | grep \(Channel

Read the output of the command to see which channels are the most congested and make your decision. In the screenshot below, channel 1 looks the least congested.

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Android: Wifi Analyzer

If you want to search for Wi-Fi channels on your phone instead of your PC, the easiest-to-use application we’ve found is Wifi Analyzer on Android. Just install the free app from Google Play and launch it. You’ll see an overview of the wireless networks in your area and which channels they’re using.

Tap the View menu and select Channel rating. The app will display a list of Wi-Fi channels and a star rating — the one with the most stars in the best. The app will actually tell you which Wi-Fi channels are better for your Wi-Fi network, so you can go straight to your router’s web interface and choose the ideal one.

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iOS: Jailbreakers Only

This isn’t possible on iPhones and iPads. Apple restricts apps from accessing this Wi-Fi data directly from the hardware, so you can’t get an app like Android’s Wifi Analyzer on Apple’s App Store.

If you jailbreak, you can install an app like WiFi Explorer or WiFiFoFum from Cydia to get this functionality on your iPhone or iPad. These tools moved to Cydia after Apple booted them from the official App Store.

You probably wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of jailbreaking just for this, so use one of the other tools here instead.

How to Change Your Router’s Wi-Fi Channel

Once you’ve found the least congested channel, changing the channel your router uses should be simple. First, log into your router’s web interface in your web browser. Click over to the Wi-Fi settings page, locate the “Wi-Fi Channel” option, and choose your new Wi-Fi channel. This option may be on some sort of “Advanced Settings” page, too.

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If there are too many other nearby networks interfering with your signal, try getting a router that supports 5 GHz (like a “Dual Band” router). 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels are farther apart and won’t interfere with each other as much.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/4/14
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