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Wireless Networks: Know your strengths!

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It is not uncommon for me to hear people complain that their wireless network is not stable, is not working properly, disconnects, is slow, and just isn’t good enough.

Unfortunately, unless you are a networking specialist, wireless connectivity is essentially a binary state: It works… or it doesn’t work. There are three things I ask people to check before I get involved:

  1. Wireless device driver issues (try downloading the latest driver);
  2. Interference (verify that there are no microwaves or wireless phones or devices between the computer and the nearest wireless access point;
  3. Distance to nearest wireless access point (move closer and try)

Of course, when we talk about interference or distance, there are a lot of factors, and while it can be binary insofar as ‘Yes there is a problem or No there isn’t a problem,’ the reality is that signPowerShellal strength is decidedly not binary.  Knowing what the signal strength is can be directly related to your answer.  So how do we check this in Windows?

Of course, many wireless adapters have their own software that will provide this information.  But that is no way to standardize things.

There is a quick PowerShell script that you can run though that will give you exactly what you need:

(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””

Notice that we are using a netsh command, which you will agree is not PowerShell.  However if you try to run this in a basic Command Prompt it will come back with an error because if the command line switches.

I ran the script from my desk at Rakuten; I am sitting about fifteen feet from the nearest wireless access point (WAP), so my response is 99%.  I know that Rakuten (who just moved into their new offices last month, and spent a considerable amount of time planning for connectivity and productivity) wants all of their employees to have the best possible signal.

For the sake of ensuring I was not always going to get the same number I ran the same script sitting in a busy Starbucks location in Akasaka, where they are more concerned with patrons buying coffee than they are offering fast Internet.  Here are the results:

image

A paltry 79%… which may seem great, but when you take into account the entire room is maybe 15 metres by 20 metres you realize there is probably interference… until you account for the fact that there are another dozen patrons connected to the same single Access Point at the same time, and at least three of them that I can see are watching streaming videos.

Of course, many IT Support people will want to run this command remotely.  No problem:

Invoke-Command {(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””} -ComputerName RemotePC

(Making sure you get all of the single and double quotes and regular and squiggly parentheses correct Smile).

Of course, if you have a group of users you who are complaining you can run it in a batch by using a Session:

$session=New-PSSession -ComputerName RemotePC1 RemotePC2 RemotePC3
Invoke-Command -session $session {(netsh wlan show interfaces) -Match ‘^\s+Signal’ -Replace ‘^\s+Signal\s+:\s+’,””}

Now that you can measure the wireless signal on your computer, you can

  • Determine if the signal is the problem, or if you have to look elsewhere;
  • See if you need to implement more access points, or distribute existing ones differently; and
  • Figure out where the best place to sit in the lunch room is when your favourite hockey team is playing when you have to work.

No go forth and administer!

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