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A Wi-Fi® monitor is typically a type of software designed to detect the status and quality of local wireless networks. In addition to reporting detailed information about nearby networks, it may also provide traffic data, allow a user to store favorite networks for future use, or perform other functions. A Wi-Fi® monitor may be useful in locating hotspots to find Internet access in unfamiliar areas. This type of program is typically available for a variety of different operating systems (OSes), and may take the form of shareware or paid software. There are also Wi-Fi® monitoring gadgets available that are about the size of a universal serial bus (USB) flash drive, and may accomplish the same basic tasks.
Most operating systems include some functionality for locating and connecting to wireless networks, though the feature set is typically sparse. Depending on the OS, the user may be able to see the network names, signal strengths, and what type of encryption they use. Wi-Fi® monitor software will typically expand on this information and present it in an interface that is easy to understand. Rather than a simple three or four bar graphic, a Wi-Fi® monitor may show a more detailed representation of signal strength. The speed of the wireless networks may also be displayed, along with the Wi-Fi® specification that each is using.
Additional features sometimes included in Wi-Fi® monitor software may be geared towards accessibility and ease of use. The Wi-Fi® monitor may make a sound, or present a visual indicator when a new network is detected. This type of feature may be useful if the user is moving around while looking for a wireless network. There may also be functionality to save favorite networks for later use, or create a prioritized list. The Wi-Fi® monitoring software may provide a history list of all access points it has detected or connected to, along with signal quality, network speed and data transmitted.
Standalone gadgets may also be used as Wi-Fi® detectors, without needing a laptop or other computer to function. Designs can vary, though there is typically some sort of visual cue included for indicating that a Wi-Fi® signal has been located. Less expensive devices may use a series of light emitting diodes (LEDs), while other units have more detailed displays. These Wi-Fi® detecting gadgets typically have less features than Wi-Fi® monitoring software. They will typically only show that a network is present and how strong the signal is.