Five top Wi-Fi tips and tools

Get more out of Wi-Fi when at home, in the office or on the road with these five great tips.

Want to speed up your Wi-Fi network, find the fastest hot spot when on the road, troubleshoot connectivity strength and more? I've got help. Check out five of my favorite Wi-Fi tips and tools, including plenty of free downloads.

Use a free VPN

When you're away from your home or office and use Wi-Fi, your Internet life can be an open book when you connect to an open Wi-Fi network. So protect yourself with a free VPN. There are plenty of them. If you're a Chrome user, check out the free ZenMate, which works as a Chrome extension. Firefox users might want to opt for Hola Unblocker, which works as a Firefox add-on.

As for free VPNs that work independently of the browser, VPNBook is very good, although you'll have to spend some serious time with setup. And the popular Hotspot Shield VPN is good as well, although its ads can be intrusive.

Troubleshoot Wi-Fi network connectivity strength

Want to troubleshoot Wi-Fi connectivity strength? Then get the free Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector. It shows you a remarkable amount of information about nearby networks, including how close or far away they are, signal strength including a real-time signal-strength graph for the last eight minutes, and a locate mode for tracking signal strength. Put it on a laptop, then move to different locations to find areas where signal strength is weak. You can then relocate your router, add repeaters, and so on. It's also a great tool if you're on the road and looking for Wi-Fi networks to connect to.

Get the highest-speed Wi-Fi at hotels

We've all been there: At a hotel that promises Wi-Fi but whose connection speed is as sluggish as an old 9600-baud modem. There's a simple solution: Find out the hottest hotel hot spots before you go. The Web site, or the Speedspot app for iOS or for Android, fixes the problem. Look for your destination, select the class of hotel (or choose all hotels), and you'll get a list of hotels along with their Wi-Fi speeds. And these are real speeds, not the speeds that the hotel advertises.

Change your router's channel to cut down on interference

If you've got a sluggish Wi-Fi network, one problem may be interference from household devices or other Wi-Fi networks. The best way to solve this is to change the channel your network uses. As a general rule, if you've got a 2.4 GHz router, choose channels 1, 6 and 11 because they're farthest away from other channels. To be sure, though, run software that shows you the channels any nearby networks use, and their signal strengths. Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector is a good bet, as is the free NetStumbler for Windows. For Android, WiFi Analyzer works well. When you see what channels nearby networks are running on, choose a conflict-free channel for your own network.

If you have a combo 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz router, you should use 5 GHz because that offers a number of bands from which to choose, which likely means less interference. Also, choose Auto or 20/40 MHz for channel bandwidth. That will give you the most bandwidth and will also be compatible with all of your devices.

Check out DD-WRT

If you're a tinkerer and are willing to put in the time, try the open source DD-WRT, which replaces your router's firmware. This Linux-based software offers you plenty of tools for speeding up, customizing, and adding new features to your Wi-Fi router. You can boost your wireless signal, use QoS to make sure there are no bandwidth hogs on the network, and plenty more. Keep in mind that not every router can work with it. So check here first to see if your router is compatible.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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