A WiFi stumbler detects the available channels and signal strength of wireless routers within range. It can also show how many other users currently use the network. With this information, you can choose a less crowded signal and set your router to a clearer channel.
So, WiFi stumbler provides two services: an assistant to find an uncluttered wireless network and provide information to help tune your own router.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any online WiFi stumblers because, in order to use a website, you already need to be connected to a router. If you are in a new location and scanning for a suitable wireless access point to connect to, a tool that requires an internet connection wouldn’t do much good. The purpose of a WiFi stumbler is to search all network characteristics from the outside. So, let’s take a look at WiFi stumblers on Windows and Mac OS.
The best WiFi stumblers for Windows and Mac:
|Lizard Systems Wi-Fi Scanner||Yes||No|
|Ekahau Heat Mapper||Yes||No|
|Cain & Abel||Yes||No|
Here are some further details about each of these options.
The NetStumbler program is only available for Windows. A lightweight version called MiniStumbler works on Windows CE and Windows Mobile. The tool can detect WiFi networks using the 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g standard — there is no mention in the tool’s documentation about 802.11n or 802.11ac. The tool won’t work with all wireless network cards. You just have to download the program to see if it will work with yours.
This utility is free to use, but the developer would appreciate a donation. When the program opens, it starts scanning automatically and continues to scan indefinitely. The interface has a similar layout to Windows Explorer in that it has a main panel that shows the currently selected router signal and a side panel that contains a tree structure displaying all available networks. Click on a signal in the index pane to get details of all available channels for that router.
The Wi-Fi Scanner from Lizard Systems is free for personal use. Business users have to pay for the software, but they can get it on a 10-day free trial to check that it works before committing any money. This tool runs on Windows operating systems.
The Lizard Systems WiFi scanner tracks down signals from 802.11 a/b/n/g and 802.11ac routers. The scanner detects all routers within range. If you are within a router’s signal footprint, it will be listed in the main screen of the tool. For easy comparison of WiFi network performance, a line graph of live data shows the signal strength of each router it picks up.
The dashboard lists the SSID of each network and the router’s MAC address. Alongside this identifying information, you will see the signal strength, maximum data throughput rate, operating channel, and security system for each router.
You first use this tool while not connected to any network. One of the reasons that people use a WiFi stumbler is to find out details about the available options so you can decide which network to connect to. You can connect and disconnect to a network from within the stumbler. You can also access and manipulate your wireless adapter from within the program.
Acrylic is a well-known program for WiFi packet sniffing. This program can only be installed on Windows. A paid version for business use and a free version of the program for home users are available. This tool is very similar to the Lizard Systems Wi-Fi Scanner, except that it has a more professional interface.
The main dashboard is divided horizontally into two halves. The upper section of the interfaces gives a list of each router within range. For each record in this list, you will see the router’s SSID, its MAC address, and the versions of 802.11 that the router can work with. The program details signal strength for each router, the channel number, and the maximum data transfer speed that you can expect from it. The app lists details about the WEP/WPA/WPA2 implementations in each router, router manufacturer, and the WPS version. The report show the manufacturer of each router. The lower half of the screen is dedicated to a live graph showing the signal strength of all the routers within range.
This tool has some interesting features, including the ability to derive generic passwords for each router that it detects so you can log onto it.
The Ekahau Heat Mapper is a free tool that can be installed on Windows. The utility shows a map of all of the surrounding WiFi signals with a color-coded footprint indicating the strength of each router’s signal. The “heat map” displays which router signals are stronger in a specific location, and therefore “hotter.”
The Ekahau system works with signals that follow the 802.11a, b, g, and n standards, but it doesn’t seem to be compatible with 802.11ac. The heat map dominates the dashboard. However, a side panel in the screen lists the encountered routers. Clicking on one of these entries brings up more details on a specific router, for example, its SSID and MAC address. The Heat Mapper detects security settings including the configuration of WEP, WPA, and WPA2 on each router.
The Heat Mapper is intended to serve home users and those with small or home offices. Larger enterprises are catered to with a more comprehensive tool called Ekahau Site Survey.
Cain & Abel is known as a hacking tool and your ISP might block your access to the tool’s website. Some of its features enable a range of hacker tricks including ARP poisoning and man-in-the-middle attacks. The tool includes facilities for cracking passwords, so it is the kind of utility that you don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. However, it is available to anyone and even if you refuse to use it, hackers can easily get their hands on it. You might as well take a look at it, particularly as it is free. The developer asks you to make a donation if you find the tool useful.
As a hacker tool, Cain and Abel include a lot of specialist screens for password cracking and behavior monitoring. However, you can just use it as a WiFi stumbler to get the IP addresses and MAC addresses of wireless routers within range. Other functions of the tool enable you to see the users connected to the router and even capture packets of data as they pass through the air. The utility includes a Traceroute function that reports on the speed and route of paths towards a given IP address.
The dashboard for the tool is really easy to use, but a lot of tabs and buttons must be explored in order to learn all of the utility’s potential. The software can be installed on Windows.
The WirelessNetView utility runs on Windows. This is a free program and is one of the many network utilities produced by NirSoft. The program doesn’t need to be compiled, so you can store it on a memory stick and run it from there.
When you open the tool, it scans for signals and repeats that scan every 10 seconds. You don’t need to be connected to the internet in order to detect surrounding wireless access points. The display lists all detected signals and their SSID, MAC Address, signal quality on last pole, average signal quality, network authentication algorithm, encryption algorithm, received signal strength indicator, channel frequency, and channel number.
The system output gives great information for those who want to improve the performance of a WiFi router because it will help you explore the strength of each available channel. Reports and raw data can be written out to files. As well as the graphical user interface, you can use the program as a command line utility.
If you’ve been waiting for a WiFi stumbler for Mac OS to appear in the list, here you have it. This tool can be used on Windows computers as well. The NetSpot tool is aimed at both home and office use. It requires you to load in a plan of your property. If you don’t have a floor plan, you can draw one in the tool’s mapping utility.
Once the plan is loaded, click on your computer’s position in the plan. The program will then survey the wireless signals in the area and draw the signal footprints of all the routers within range. If you don’t pick up all of the routers in your establishment, just move your laptop to a different area and run the scan again. By this method, you can build up a heat map that shows all the signal footprints.
Once NetSpot has gathered information on all of the signals in your space, you can display different views of the WiFi service. The interface shows varying levels of signal strength around the building. It can display any interference from external sources or equipment within your walls that impair the quality of your WiFi service.
The tool also has a Discovery mode. This will poll the immediate area around your computer and list all of the signals that it encounters in that spot. Most of those signals will be from other devices rather than from routers. In each case, you will see the SSID of the originator of the signal and that of the router with which it is communicating. You will also see the channel number, the frequency and the security system for that transmission. The Discovery mode records show the vendors of transmitting devices and the version of the 802.11 standard that its WNIC is using. You get to see the signal strength that was detected on each encounter with a specific device.
This amazing tool is available for free. The ability to enter a floor plan gives the interface of NetSpot a great look and it makes spotting WiFi signal issues easy.
Homedale is another WiFi stumbler that can be installed on both Mac OS and Windows. The scanner can recognize signals from 802.11a, b, g, n, and 802.11ac routers. The interface connects to Google, Mozilla, or OpenWLAN map location systems to display the exact location of the WiFi signal footprint.
Each of the wireless transmissions that the system detects is shown alongside signal strength and the frequency channel. Each signal is identified by its originating SSID and the MAC address of the router that manages the transmission. Other details displayed on the dashboard for each detected transmission include the vendor of the device and its home country and the security system in use.
The Homedale dashboard displays the signal strength of each router on a line graph compiled from periodic network testing. This is a great tool for working out where your router’s signal reaches and whether it is overloaded. The information that you derive from Homedale helps decide where to relocate the router and whether to switch its operating channel. You can also keep an eye on the devices on the network that helps guard your wireless system against intruders. Homedale is available for free.
WiFi stumblers for mobile devices
If you want to search WiFi signals when you are away from home, you may find yourself without your laptop or Macbook and just your mobile device. So, it is useful to know which WiFi stumblers work on Windows Mobile, Android, and iOS.
WeFi is a free utility for Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile. It is also available for Windows and Mac OS. This utility scans for wireless access points within range and then refers to a community populated database to report on which networks offer the best service.
WiFi Map is another free community-driven app and it is available for Android and iOS. The app accesses a crowdsourced database of wireless access points all over the world. When your device comes within range of one, the app will supply a password for it so that you can access the WiFi service for free. This is a very popular app.
Network Analyzer is a free tool for Android and iOS. The home website of the service is not very sophisticated, but the app itself has some very well produced facilities and graphics.The app will scan for wireless networks within range and it can also produce analysis on the networks to which you are connected. You can gather data on response times to given destinations, DNS reports, and route information.
This free wireless network analyzer is another example of an app that has some sophisticated graphs and layouts in the app, but a very sparse presentation on the service’s website. The tool has a very high rating on the Google Play, and it has a ton of good reviews. The app detects surrounding wireless networks and also assess the bandwidth availability of each channel that is available to you so you can get a faster connection.
Available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, WiFi Analyzer and Scanner is a popular free app. It has been installed more than a million times. Not only is this a good tool for finding the right WiFi channel to connect to when you are out, but it can also help you find the best location in your home for your own WiFi router.
This free WiFi discovery tool for Android and iOS that also reports on all of the other devices that are connected to the same AP. WiFi Analyzer includes diagnostic tools so you can assess your connection to remote addresses.
Try a WiFi stumbler
Analyzing the signal from your WiFi access point and the extent of its footprint helps you adjust and move your router to get the best coverage of your property. The heat map function of some of the WiFi stumblers in this list can show you straight away that your router is in the wrong place or that there is too much interference around.
Most of the WiFi stumblers on our list are free, so you really don’t have anything to lose if you need to try one out. The speed and coverage gained from tuning your WiFi router mean that these free utilities can save you money and improve network performance.
Have you used a WiFi stumbler? Have you tried a tool that isn’t on our list? Let us know your experience with WiFi stumblers by leaving a message in the Comments section below.