Networking

Five free wireless networking tools

Monitor, secure, and optimize your Wi-Fi network with the help of these handy apps.

Wi-Fi is relatively easy to configure, but optimizing, securing, and diagnosing problems with a wireless network can be a challenge. Here are five free tools that can help.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: CommView for WiFi

CommView for WiFi is a packet sniffer that is specifically designed for Wi-Fi networks. As you would expect, the program allows you to capture packets and then search them for specific strings, packet types, etc. One of the most useful features provided by this utility is an alarm (Figure A) . The software can alert you whenever certain types of traffic are detected. Such a feature could go a long way toward improving Wi-Fi security.

Figure A

CommView for WiFi

2: inSSIDer

inSSIDer is similar to the old Net Stumbler application, except that it has been modernized and it works with operating systems such as Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. The application is designed to detect wireless networks and report on their type, maximum transfer rate, and channel usage. There is even a graphical representation of each wireless network's amplitude and channel usage (Figure B).

Figure B

inSSIDer

3: Wireless Wizard

Wireless Wizard is a free utility that is designed to help you get the best possible performance from your wireless network connection. In addition to providing all manner of statistics about your wireless network, the software offers a series of diagnostic tests you can use to see how well your wireless network is performing. It also includes a spectrum analyzer that recommends the best wireless channel for you to use (Figure C) .

Figure C

Wireless Wizard

4: Wireless Key Generator

Wireless Key Generator (Figure D) is a simple application that helps improve wireless network security. It prompts you to specify the type of security you are using on your wireless network and the key strength. It then generates a random encryption key for you to use. The use of random keys helps to reduce the temptation to use simple keys that might be easy to guess.

Figure D

Wireless Key Generator

5: WeFi

WeFi helps you locate free wireless hotspots throughout the world. The application's initial screen displays statistics related to your current connectivity. It also lets you see a filtered view of available hotspots. You can choose to see your favorite hotspots, approved WeSpots, or any available Wi-Fi. WeFi's best feature is the Wi-Fi maps, which show you the locations of public Wi-Fi hotspots (Figure E).

Figure E

WeFi

Other Wi-Fi tools?

What wireless networking apps would you add to this list? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

13 comments
N4RPS
N4RPS

Unfortunately, the Windows version of inSSIDer is now $19.95. The Linux version is still free, but I haven't been able to get it to work - which is a shame, because there aren't very many good utilities of this nature for Linux.

Also, yes, Wireless Wizard installer is bundled with a front end that tries to install two PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), but you can 'opt out' of them. Additionally, WW installs a third PUP, FIleFrog, without any opt-out whatsoever. It can be removed in Control Panel > Programs and Features. It's a shame they had to stoop to such tactics just to make a buck.


This might be considered off-topic, but to uninstall programs and remove what a lot of uninstallers usually leave behind, use Revo Uninstaller. In addition to Malwarebytes, JRT and AdwCleaner also do a great job of stripping adware from your PCs...

Chris M 123
Chris M 123

Wireless Wizard installed malware on my machine. Had to use Malwarebytes to remove it.

D-howie
D-howie

Wireless Wizard wants/forces installation/change of default search and a search bar. Basically forces crapware on you to use their product. Major fail!

erjiv
erjiv

I only know Windows based tools, but I will say that I use MetaGeek's InSSIDer and Ekahau's Heatmapper. There are also other free tools out there for plan/designing offices and home. These are provided by Wi-Fi infrastrucutre companies Aerohive and Meraki. Also, I know that Xirrus has a Wi-Fi inspector that is a program and gadget for Windows Vista/7. Here is a list of links: Metageek InSSIDer: http://www.metageek.net/support/downloads/ Ekahau Heatmapper: http://www.ekahau.com/products/heatmapper/overview.html. XIrrus Wi-Fi Inspector: http://www.xirrus.com/Products/Wi-Fi-Inspector. Aerohive Wi-Fi Planner: http://www.aerohive.com/planner Meraki Wi-Fi Planer: http://www.meraki.com/products/wireless/wifi-mapper There are tools out there for the OSX, but I don't use them so I don't want to recommend what ones are out there.

register2@optonline.
register2@optonline.

I downloaded WEFI and installed it. After running it, I couldn't access my homegroups (Windows 7). When I restarted Windows,I couldn't access the internet. I uninstalled WEFI, and my network returned to normal. Beware of geeks bearing gifts.

harv990
harv990

Check out all the bad reviews for WeFi on Cnet before installing.

dragonator
dragonator

I was really disappointed to find all the cling on crap with Wireless Wizard. You wiped your attaboy slate clean with that aw$#@!

atoms
atoms

Would it be that hard to say "Five free Windows apps" in the lead sentence so the rest of us could skip it? thanks

magic8ball
magic8ball

If you download from the cnet links then the cnet installers try to install toolbars and other bs. Most annoying. Really the best of these tools is inSSIDer. inSSIDer authors website: http://www.metageek.net/

imsoscareed
imsoscareed

CommView isn't free. There is an evaluation version but IS NOT FREE.

magic8ball
magic8ball

A ton of bad reviews. The good reviews aren't very specific on why its good but the bad ones are very detailed as to why its bad. Possible spyware, conflicts with other software, trying to install files when uninstalling the program. Better to play it safe and avoid that one.