Signal strength

Just a warning that this might be something that:

  • you may already know
  • you don’t care
  • it goes beyond “it just works” and makes quantitative interesting (at least to me)

First of all, I’d like to point out that I didn’t start out looking to learn/relearn this.

I actually stumbled into it reading a story for some other information.  The story was “Review: eero Wi-Fi is a solid option for Apple’s outgoing AirPort“.  Darn.  I like my currently working AirPort.  Oh well, time and technology move on…

The story was interesting and might have had more relevance if I lived in a mansion and wanted to have wireless extended everywhere.  As I type this, I’m sitting right under my AirPort and if I opened the curtains here and in the rec room, I could see my other chair where I do what passes for remote computing these days.

Anyway, the article itself was interesting and, when I win the lottery, it might have a practical purpose for me.

What was interesting and sparked my learning (or relearning in this case) was the section that talks about the strength of the signal.

There was a time when that was important and I knew all that.  Sadly, I had forgotten.

But I was curious enough to continue.

These days, I’m lazy enough not to dig into that.  Like most people, I suspect, I use the little WIFI indicator to show signal strength as a divining rod.  The more little bars, the stronger the signal.  It gets me through the day and as long as there is a bar or two, I can connect and Play Words with Friends and write the occasional blog post.  Life is good.

Now I’m curious though – how good?

I go to take a look at what networks are available to me.  There’s the three that I’m broadcasting from my AirPort – two at 2.4GHz and 1 at 5GHz.  Why?  On a regular day, there are only two of us connected.  So, the answer is “because I can”.

I can also see the two networks that my one neighbour is broadcasting in his house.  They’re weak and they’re protected anyway.  The neighbour on the other side doesn’t have internet access so there’s nothing visible.  Depending upon the day, I can see the network from two houses over.  It’s really weak and protected.  We’re all good on this street; no unprotected wireless.

So, I come back to my own.  Where on the quality scale shown above am I?

I should be really good.  This computer is less than a metre from the AirPort.  I open a terminal and check.

I probably didn’t need to black out the AirPort details – if you come over, just ask for the password and I’ll give it to you.

The confirming key to me though is the signal strength.  In the scale above, that is “high quality”.  Life is indeed good.

If I get ambitious, I might just walk about and see what happens to the signal strength in various locations.

If I get really ambitious, I may dig into the other statistics to see what they are telling me.

As you would suspect, there are all kinds of browser extensions that let you investigate as well.  Utilities like WIFI Analyzer are very interesting.

I’m thinking that this would be a good learning experience for students. Perhaps it would help them with better placement of their access point at home.  In the original article, the author mapped out the various locations within his house.  Wouldn’t it be a neat exercise to have students map out the entire school?  Are there any dead spots that need to be reported to the support department for addressing?

In case of practicality, I know that there have been venues where I question the signal strength or I see more than one access point broadcasting under the same name.  This bit of information should give me a little more information to make an informed decision.

Unless I forget it again.

More related reading:

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