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


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


Other Wi-Fi tools?

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