I’ve been working through the Lynda.com course Up and Running With Wireless Networking that mentioned a tool I think could be useful to libraries. It’s called WiFi Analyzer for Android and is available from the Google Play Store.
The default view is the channel graph, that shows all of the wifi networks within range of your phone along with their relative strengths. But the view that I’m recommending is the Signal Meter view, which you can get to by clicking on the eye icon near the top of the app, then selecting Signal Meter which gives you a needle on a curved, colored spectrum.
I have a Linksys E2500 dual band router, meaning that it broadcasts on both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz. It sits in my living room. So I fired up the app chose my wifi router from the half dozen in my condo building, and went walking around our condo to these locations:
Living Room opposite the router where my writing desk is. It’s by a window:
Middling wifi by my writing desk in the living room.
Kitchen – No electronics except my cell phone:
Great wifi signal! But no good space to use for devices.
Master Bedroom – home of my wife’s laptop and sometimes mine too:
Middling wifi where we like to unwind, read off the ‘net and stream video. We could be doing better but works most of the time.
Second Bedroom – Where my wireless printer lives. It sometimes falls off the network:
Now I think I know why my printer drops off the network as much as it does.
So in my house the strongest signal is where I have nowhere to put a laptop or anything but maybe an iPad on the stove. I have a middling signal that works well enough where my spouse and I use our main computers. But the closest room to a dead spot I have is where my wireless printer lives. Not a good situation, especially since the printer itself is balkier than I’d like.
In a similar way, you could carry your phone around the library along with a simple map and map out the hot and cold wifi spots in your library. As a bonus, you could step outside and see where wifi is usable. Then either give your patrons an outdoor space, or take measures to block the signal so people have to come in.
So now you have your library wifi map. Now what? If you like your area of coverage, rest on your laurels and map again in six months or so. If you don’t like your coverage, you have a few options:
- Move your router into an open space. Whilewifi signals can go through walls, bookcases and other obstacles, that will degrade the signal. The more direct line of sight people with mobile devices have to the router the better.
- If your wifi router is in a closet, you’re not giving your patrons the best speeds and connectivity.
- Move obstacles. Wifi finds it harder to go through metal, brick, concrete, glass and water. So if there are metal filing cabinets, fish tanks or mirrors between your wifi router and where you expect patrons to use their devices, move them.
- Look for sources of interference – microwaves, baby monitors and some phones use the same frequency bands as many wifi routers. Move these away from your routers.
When you’ve made your changes, map your library again and see if where you want your patrons to use their devices has a strong signal.
I hope you’ll find these tips and the WiFi Analyzer app helpful. I’d like to hear from you on what worked and what did not. As of this writing, the WiFi Analyzer app was not available for iPhone. There are similar apps available, but I haven’t tested any. If there’s one you like that’s well reviewed, let me know.