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How Strong Is Your Wi-Fi Wireless Signal?


Young woman sitting in living room, using laptop.
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Question: How Strong Is Your Wi-Fi Wireless Signal?
The performance of a Wi-Fi wireless network connection depends in part on signal strength. Between a computer and wireless access point, the signal strength in each direction determines the data rate available on that connection.
Answer: To determine the signal strength of your Wi-Fi connection at any point in time, use one or more of the following methods:
  • Operating system utilities - Microsoft Windows (and other network operating systems) contain a built in utility to monitor wireless network connection status. In the Network Connections section of Control Panel, opening the Status window of the Wireless Network Connection icon reveals a Signal Strength meter. This meter shows up to five green bars representing the current strength on a quality scale from "Very Low" (1 bar) to "Excellent" (5 bars).

  • Wireless adapter utilities - Some manufacturers of wireless network hardware and/or notebook computers provide software applications along with the hardware that also monitor wireless signal strength. These applications often report signal strength and quality based on a percentage from 0-100%.

    For example, a connection with an Excellent 5-bar rating in Windows may show in IBM ThinkVantage Access Connections as Excellent with a percentage rating anywhere between 80-100%. These percentages are based on actual radio signal levels maintained by the wireless network adapter, in decibels (dB).

  • Wi-Fi locator devices - Resembling a keychain, a Wi-Fi locator device is designed to detect signal strength of nearby wireless access points. Most Wi-Fi locators use a set of between four and six LEDs to indicate signal strength in units of "bars" similar to the Microsoft Windows utility. Unlike the above methods, Wi-Fi locator devices do not measure the strength of your actual connection, they only predict the strength of a connection.
Note that different tools in the above categories will sometimes report slightly different results. For example, one utility may show a signal strength of "82%" and another "80%" for the same connection, or one Wi-Fi locator may show three bars out of five while another shows four bars out of five. These variations are generally caused by small differences in how the utilities collect samples and the timing they use to average them together to report an overall rating.

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