Checking your wi-fi signal

To check your wi-fi signal, hold the option key as you click the wi-fi menu in the upper-right corner. You’ll see information that can help diagnose any issues.

  • Network name – also called SSID. Be sure your own network is checked here. Don’t use a neighbor’s or a public or Xfinity wi-fi channel – they may not be secure or provide access to printers, computers, iPhones & other devices on your own network.
  • Channel – channels 1–11 use the older 2.4 GHz frequencies, which can travel farther but result in slower connections. These channels are prone to interference from other nearby wi-fi systems, microwave ovens and others. The channel is determined by the wi-fi router so you may need help changing it. Newer wi-fi routers support multiple channels simultaneously, so your device could connect with one channel or another depending on signal strength. It’s OK to use a low-channel (below 36) once in a while but you shouldn’t have to rely on it every day.
  • RSSI – signal strength. This is a negative number, so closer to zero is stronger. –35 is a good signal strength while –75 would be poor. Moving closer to the router should give you a stronger signal.
  • Noise – background noise. We want less noise, so a lower negative number. –80 is a good noise level; –40 may not be. Eliminating interference will help lower this number. If possible, have your wi-fi router changed to channel 36 or higher. Or see if you can get your neighbors to change their channels to a channel at least 3 channels higher or lower than yours.
  • Signal to Noise ratio – not shown but it’s easy to calculate. Take the noise level and subtract the RSSI. For example, 80 – 35 = 45 is excellent SNR. Lower than 25 results in poor (slow) connections.
  • Transmission (Tx) rate – your speed to the router (circled in the screenshot). We’d expect this to be at least 200 mbps. When the number falls below your internet provider’s speed, you’re not able to get the speed you’re paying for and it’s not the ISP’s fault. If you’re transferring files from one computer to another or backing up over wi-fi, we’d like the Tx rate to be closer to 600 mbps. It can be as high as 1300 mbps in ideal conditions.
  • PHY mode – 802.11ac is the latest & fastest type, although this matters most when you’re doing computer-to-computer transfers within the building. 802.11n is fine for most purposes. If you see 802.11g, there are either too many obstructions between you and the wi-fi router, you’re too far away, or your computer or router are over 6 years old. 802.11b is primitive wi-fi from the early 2000s. All modern Apple equipment can use 802.11ac or 802.11n, so if a particular network never offers them it’s time to get a new router. We recommend an Apple AirPort Extreme.

What about internet speed tests? Sites like www.speedtest.net (requires Flash), the better www.sourceforge.net/speedtest or simple www.fast.com check your internet speed. But that’s only part of the story. Your speed is affected by what the ISP (Comcast, CenturyLink) delivers to your building at the modem, and also the internal wired or wi-fi connection between the modem and your computer or device. So if the speed test site shows only 5 mbps and your wi-fi Tx rate is 250 mbps, you’re getting a strong wi-fi signal but the modem isn’t up-to-speed. Call the ISP to get a faster service. If the test site shows 5 mbps and your Tx rate is 5 mbps, the ISP can’t help you because your internal network is at fault. Confirm this by moving closer to the wi-fi router and test again. If moving closer gives you both higher internet speeds and/or Tx rates, you’ll need to address the wi-fi situation, not the internet provider.

Having trouble? Sometimes the quickest way to solve a problem is disconnecting and reconnecting. Just click the wi-fi menu and Turn Wi-Fi Off. Then click it again and Turn Wi-Fi On. You might get a better signal. If you find you need to do this frequently, you might need to move closer to the router. Contact us or your network staff.

Mac connects to the wrong wi-fi network? Learn how to give your network priority. And read about the science of wi-fi.

Learn more about sharing & networking.

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