By Joe Levi | April 3, 2010 11:26 AM
Most Android devices are capable of connecting to networks and the Internet over WiFi. With higher throughputs and lower latencies WiFi is generally faster than even 3G speeds.
WiFi comes in a few different flavors, 802.11 A, B, G, and N. 802.11a didn’t stick around long and was primarily used by enterprise customers for wireless networking on corporate campuses. 802.11b was the “residential” version which, although being slower (11Mbps for B versus 54Mbps for A) had better reliability and distance in residential environments. G combined the benefits of both A and B. N brought significantly faster speeds, but mobile phones (like those powered by Android) have yet to implement N because the speed of the network has usually been faster than the phone could effectively use.
There are several scenarios where having a few WiFi tools on your Android could come in particularly handy. Setting up a new wireless network or troubleshooting an existing one, helping you find an open hotspot, and war driving are a few of my favorites.
WiFi Scanner is a free app that is beautiful in its simplicity and execution. This app simply scans the airwaves to show what access points are within range, the network’s name (SSID), what type of encryption (if any) the network is using, the channel, and signal strength.
This app is ideal for a quick scan of what’s around you.
WiFi Analyzer (another free app) picks up where WiFi Scanner leaves off. In addition to showing nearby networks, this app plots the channel and signal strength so you can troubleshoot or tune your network to reduce interference with networks on the same or neighboring channel. The graphical display of this information is simple and intuitive.
But WiFi Analyzer doesn’t stop there: swipe your finger from right to left to get a “speedometer” view of the signal strength of the network that you select. This lets you explore the coverage area looking for areas of low signal-quality that may be causing problems.
Another couple swipes and you are presented with a presented with what I call “the big screen of stars”. After you set your network it monitors the channel usage and provides recommendations for what channels may suit you better. (You’ll want to keep in mind that the recommended channel may differ based on location, so make sure you run this test in several places in your home and make your decision accordingly.)
FCC Test is a free app (beta) put out by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and referenced from Broadband.gov. In short, this app lets you run a “Mobile Broadband Test” which measures download speed, upload speed, and latency from your location. From the “About” screen, “The purpose of
My favorite WiFi app is called wardrive, and it’s also free. Those of you who were around for the early days of WiFi may remember the practice of “War Driving”, where people would grab a laptop (which back then would cost a few thousand dollars), an inverter (for power), a WiFi card (which was another half-a-grand), an external antenna (preferably with a magnetic base), a GPS antenna, and some specialized software. So, for around four-thousand dollars you could get in your car, drive around, and through triangulation and other techniques, you could fairly accurately plot the WiFi access points around your city.
With this free app and a Android phone, you can do basically the same thing!
Hop in your car, cradle your Android in your Car Dock, plug in to your car’s DC power jack, fire up the app, and start driving! The app uses your Android’s GPS and WiFi to plot color-coded access points using Google Maps over your data connection. Open the settings and you can toggle the satellite map-view, add labels containing the access point’s name, and show which type of access points to display (open or closed, or both).
When you’re done you can export your map to KML (an XML file containing geo-coordinates for Google Maps and Google Earth), or even upload your new discoveries to the wardrive online database.
Just keep in mind, with great power comes great responsibility. Use that power wisely, and safely; and stay out of trouble.