If you believed the vendors, you'd think Wi-Fi was simple: Turn on your computer or other device, hop on the Internet and you're set to go.
But as we all know, life isn't quite that easy. Your home or office network can have dead spots where devices can't seem to connect, or where the connections get slow or flaky. Public hotspots can make you prey for hackers and snoopers. And when you are at a hotspot, you might need to share your connection with your other devices, including smartphones and tablets.
While there is no way to immediately solve all the problems associated with wireless connectivity, there are applications that can make things better -- and many of them are free. I've rounded up nine free pieces of Windows software that can go a long way toward helping you solve your Wi-Fi issues at home, in your office or on the go.
Home and office networks
If you want to get serious about troubleshooting your Wi-Fi network, HeatMapper may well be your best bet.
To get the most out of HeatMapper, you'll have to do a bit of work, so be prepared to put in some time. Run the program and then walk around the area your network covers (while carrying your laptop). HeatMapper creates a heat map showing you the strength of Wi-Fi coverage.
You can then reposition computers away from areas of low coverage and place them where coverage is better, or plan to use your smartphones and tablets in high-bandwidth areas. HeatMapper is also useful if you're just starting to build your network, because you can try positioning your router in various locations and see which offers the best all-around coverage.
It does more as well. If you have a wireless network with more than one access point, it locates each for you. It also detects the security settings on all access points.
HeatMapper is the free version of a more powerful Wi-Fi surveying tool called Ekahau Site Survey. HeatMapper lets you do surveys for only 15 minutes at a time; Site Survey gives you unlimited time, along with additional features. Pricing varies according to the size and complexity of your network.
(Note: While the product description page says it works only with Windows 7 and Windows 8, I've used it on several Windows 10 machines with no problem.)
If you don't want to go through the hassle of creating a heat map of your network, and would prefer something simpler and more straightforward to use, you should give Acrylic WiFi a try. It locates every network within range of your laptop and displays a tremendous amount of information about each: the network name (SSID), MAC address, channel it uses, type of encryption, manufacturer, type of 802.11 (b, g and/or n), maximum router speed, manufacturer and more.
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