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Wireless Networking Toys Hardware Technology

WiFi Seeker, Finder, Detector Roundup 168

captainJam points to this review at of five reasonably priced hardware WiFi finders. A snippet: "If you're not using a WiFi enabled PDA, you either have to turn on your handtop or laptop, or wake it from standby just to check if there's a network in the area. While a WiFi Finder / Seeker won't make a connection out of thin air, it will conveniently tell you whether there is a WiFi network in the area."
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WiFi Seeker, Finder, Detector Roundup

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  • fp (Score:1, Troll)

    by Icyfire0573 ( 719207 )
    i used this device to find a wireless hotspot to get a first post from!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:01AM (#10940477)
    My girlfriend's dad once asked me what I was doing with my curious little LED encrusted black box... "It's a WiFi detector" I said.

    "A wife detector?" He replied.

    "Erm, no. Would be a good hack, though".
  • by Penguinoflight ( 517245 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:02AM (#10940480) Homepage Journal
    What ever happend to licking your finger and feeling for which way the wifi is blowing?
  • ...or PDA.

    These could be a great idea if you live in an area that has some WiFi, but only sometimes. Also great for when you are out and about, or in another city/state/whatever.

    If you are somewhere that you know has WiFi (office, known hotspot, Starbucks etc), it is not much use.

  • by Linuxathome ( 242573 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:03AM (#10940490) Homepage Journal
    You know WiFe technology has really been commoditized and has hit the mainstream when Home Depot [] is selling the stuff. I wouldn't be surprised now to see them stock these WiFi detectors, a great tool for the homeowner who wants to optimize his/her home network. They sell meters for just about every other wired products (RJ11, RJ45, etc.)
  • time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Suburbanpride ( 755823 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:04AM (#10940492)
    Its takes less than 7 seconds from the time I open the lid on my powerbook untill I can browse available networks. The wifi dector doesn't even tell you if you will be able to connect to the network or not. I don't really see the use for these devices
    • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If you took the time to actually read the WHOLE article, you'd see that the last device DOES tell you if the AP is open or not.

      Nice karma whoring.

    • Re:time (Score:3, Informative)

      by way2trivial ( 601132 )
      re-RTFA, the canary wireless one does tell you if it's open or encrypted.
    • Re:time (Score:4, Informative)

      by saitoh ( 589746 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:13AM (#10940527) Homepage
      Ever go sniffing in places that are... well, less then suitable to carry around a laptop (or conceil one while sniffing)?

      No, these don't tell you if you can connect, but it at least brings us one step closer to wether there is a network at all.
    • Re:time (Score:2, Funny)

      by rzebram ( 828885 )
      You can, yes, but don't you think it would increase your chances of ever getting a date if you could just pull a small device out of your pocket instead of whipping out the laptop? No? Me either... Unless, of course, you find a girl in a bar where you're checking for WiFi access who happens to be amused by LEDs and shiny objects.
    • Re:time (Score:3, Informative)

      by wpc4 ( 169892 )
      Well, as the article says the Canary device does indeed detect SID/Channel as well as if WEP is enabled.
    • Re:time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:39AM (#10940614)
      Have you ever tried to take out a laptop and do something useful with it while walking?

      I could easily press a button on a keychain while walking. Hell, even that $50 fancy one looks easy enough to manage. There's NO WAY your laptop is going to be as easy to use.

      If I am hunting for a WiFi signal, I don't want to stop, find a place to rest a laptop, spend thirty seconds setting it up, and then clicking a couple times to see if, indeed, there is a signal even ONCE. Screw doing it over and over.

      "I don't really see the use for these devices"

      Stop being so self-centered, and maybe you would.

      • Good point but I'll argue anyway :)

        I spent ~6 hours helping do a site survey with my 14lb laptop... that sucked...

        But a little 3lb laptop set to remain awake with the lid closed, and netstumbler (or similar app) set to beep when it picks up the hotspot would be as easy as these devices.
        • ~6 hours helping

          What do you do, charge by the hour? I can do a 100k sq/ft warehouse in 2-3 hours by myself. And then I spend another hour or so writing up the details and marking the locations for APs. With help I'd put the test AP on a battery and be done in no time.

          my 14lb laptop

          That's a big laptop. Not sure I've ever seen one that heavy. Mine isn't light, and it weighs in at 7 lbs.
    • You could also use our AvantGo [] channel for [] -- even on your PDA, or your cell phone. Slightly more portable than opening up your laptop.
  • by eeg3 ( 785382 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:06AM (#10940504) Homepage
    I got it from ThinkGeek []... it was reasonably priced (Only $25). It's very well designed, and it's pretty compact.

    While it wasn't the #1 in the comparison, i'd recommend it to anyone.
  • encrypted? (Score:5, Informative)

    by VE3ECM ( 818278 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:06AM (#10940505)
    Well, only one [] of the devices is able to detect if a node is running encryption.

    At about 2X the cost of the cheapest one (50 vs. 25 bucks), it's easily worth the expense.

    I dunno about you, but the amount of time it would take me to get my laptop out of my bag, fire it up, and try to connect isn't minor.

    The ability to show if I'm wasting my time or not is worth the extra 25 bucks.

    • Anyone who has ever driven with a radar detector knows just how useful a simple detector can be. The LED-based WiFi finders probably react to microwave ovens and cordless phones just like your radar detector reacts to McDonalds door openers. I wouldn't even waste half an hour to try one.

      The canary, on the other hand, has a proper receiver, and a computer capable of parsing the broadcast packets, which puts it in a class of its own. I'd wait until they fix the problem with undetected routers, and make th
  • by brxndxn ( 461473 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:08AM (#10940511)
    I think our generation is gonna be walking around the city with these things when we're old like the old people at beaches with metal detectors..

    • These, and a GPS device for geocaching. Find what you're looking for with the GPS and log it after finding a wireless signal with the WiFi Detector.
      • These, and a GPS device for geocaching. Find what you're looking for with the GPS and log it after finding a wireless signal with the WiFi Detector.

        How about combining geocaching and WiFi detectors?

        Someone burries a WiFi device (um... this isn't sounding as geeky as I thought it would) in the sand somewhere, and then other people try to find it. When someone finds it they take it to a new location and bury it again.
    • You could also wardrive, and populate databases like [], a site used for collecting locations of hotspots. This enables anyone to find out where these hotspots are, look at coverage, pricing, etc -- all on a graphical map!
  • Hm.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by kaitou ( 789825 ) <> on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:10AM (#10940519) Homepage
    That sort of thing would probably be pretty useless here in NYC.

    The problem is, that a lot of networks -seem- open, but require a login once you are connected, and around here, you are never far from a signal, so I just never found it worthwhile to plunk down the $30 or so they ask for them.

    The only one of them that I find interesting is the Canary one, which actualy has an LCD that shows you the SSID of the network. But I am not sure it's worth the $50 to me, but it's a much better value then any of the "if the light blinks, you got WiFi" ones.
  • The only downside to these devices, encription and B or b only networks show up as any other. They are existant or not and signal strength.

    You found a AP in the area. Great, but it is an encrypted airport commercial network for say e-ticket kiosks. You wouldn't know unless you powered up you laptop, draining you battery further and have to wait for windows to start up and shut down. Even hibernation saves login time but not time for windows to load and dump ram.
    • by The Cisco Kid ( 31490 ) * on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:18AM (#10940547)
      The point is to save you the trouble of opening the laptop if there is *NO* wap in range.
    • by hdd ( 772289 )
      you should learn to stand up in a second, and you can config it in such way that only hiber/reboot required password.
      • Standby still drains battery power keeping your programs running in ram. Hibernation completely dumps ram to the hard disk for reload after post. Power is completely off once dump is completed.
        • Standby still drains battery power

          My laptop (el cheapo iBook) can standby for over 48 hours (maybe longer; that's the longest I've let it go). It's rare that I walk around that long so busy trying to find a wifi signal that I don't get a chance to plug in the power adapter.

  • ... if the HWL1 had an antenna connector: then it could be simply connected to your laptop's wifi card for a much better signal.
  • by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:25AM (#10940566) Homepage Journal

    The best solution by far that I've found is my Palm Tungsten C running NetChaser []. Not only does it detect the networks, it will let you know their SSIDs, the last time you saw them, their MAC address, and a pile of other information. It can alert you by a tone or by using the Tungsten C's vibration function, and can operate with the screen off. It can even initiate a WiFi connection to a selected network.

    I've had mine set-up to operate with the screen off, and vibrate when an unencrypted network is encountered. I can walk around with it in my pocket and can silently know when I'm within range of an unencrypted wireless signal (it just logs the encrypted ones without vibrating). At that point, I can either connect from the T|C, or whip out my PowerBook.

    It's been fun walking around the neighbourhood with it in my pocket looking for open networks. I seem to hit upon one ever 2 or 3 houses. It's nice to know that if I'm really hard up for cash I can probably print up a bunch of fliers and distribute them around the neighbourhood where there are open access points offering to secure their access points for cash :).


    • hehe, that "business plan" has already been tried []

      Corrado told the crowd that they initially had no plans to attend DefCon but decided to enter the contest 19 days earlier after a "business plan" they devised fell through.

      "We were going to war-drive around Cincinnati and find unencrypted wireless access points," Corrado said. "We knocked on people's doors and asked if (they) wanted us to encrypt them, and they just got all freaked out. So we were searching for other things to do with the equipment we had
      • In business, approch is everything -- especially when you're dealing with the home consumer.

        The problem here is that they went door to door and told people they had detected their access point was open. You might as well just say "I was driving through your neighbourhood trying to hack whatever machines I could, and decided I could make a few bucks by extorting it ouf of you" -- because this is what the people who answered the door will have heard in their minds.

        The better way of going about this is to d

  • What if the signal is too weak for the small detector to detect? What if your real laptop can see it and your gadget will not?
  • So what's inside? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:31AM (#10940589)
    With prices ranging from $25-$50, I can't help the obvious thought: what needs to be inside such a WiFi finder, and... what should a simple thingie like this cost?

    Duhh.. antenna (cheap), plastic box (cents), couple of LED's/switches (cents), batteries (included?), small PCB (cheap), some dedicated IC's (???, anyone got some info here?), design/packaging/retail etc. (large portion of street price?)

    Easy to build yourself as hobby project? Estimated price a couple of years from now?

    • The basic circuit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EvilMidnightBomber ( 778018 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:51AM (#10940963) Homepage
      The standard incarnation is a generic rf detector/level meter with an antenna that is tuned to 2.4ghz.

      The Basic Circuit []
      (Back the url up one dir for datasheets and pics of one hobbyists's implementation)

      And another version [] using a pic instead of a dedicated display driver chip.
    • by Have Blue ( 616 )
      I would assume that, since the 2.4Ghz spectrum is unlicensed and used by lots of things other than wifi gear (Bluetooth, cordless phones, etc), there needs to be some sort of filter that detects 802.11 frames flying by.
    • The smartid detector consists of a plate antenna formed on the PCB, a couple of transistor amplifiers, two 2.4GHZ filters and a bargraph IC.

      The filters are the only problem if you want to make your own. In small
      quantitys they are hard to source. Two filters, postage and packing will probably cost nearly as much as a wifi detector.

      The article is wrong about the smartid device not detecting bluetooth. It does.
      It gives a signal strength idication of anything in the 2.4GHZ band.
      I can usually tell the differen
    • The most logical inside would be a stripped-down Wifi card, with the T/R switch, power amp and maybe other stuff removed. When you need some demodulator/decoder anyway (to distinguish from microwave oven etc), why not install the entire chipset, and just underuse that...

  • by SuperDuG ( 134989 ) <[kt.celce] [ta] [eb]> on Monday November 29, 2004 @12:45AM (#10940624) Homepage Journal
    One of these would be great for situations I frequently find myself in ...

    ... many college campuses are "WiFi Ready" or whatever catch phrase the IT department wants to use to talk about 802.11x access.

    Thankfully poor planning, lack of funds, etc will cause there to be many upon many of blind spots in the buildings, these would be much more useful than carrying around a laptop and watching the indicator on the screen.

    Especially useful when the AP's are "hidden" to be more asthetically pleasing.

  • by enystrom ( 78427 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @01:04AM (#10940686)
    ... buy a working Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic!
  • WiFi-B-Gone (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Will the next generation combine the WiFi-detector keyfob with the TV-B-Gone []? Press the button and within a minute all WiFi in the area goes down...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So there we were in New Orleans, staying in an older hotel in the French Quarter with absolutely no broadband (It was being installed for our meeting the following day).

    Were we interested in partying - no way. One of the meeting participants from Germany needed his daily shot of freshmeat while another needed his daily shot of slashdot. So we pulled out our Smart Id WiFi detector, purchased at ThinkGeek and proceeded to walk the streets, laptops in backpacks, Wifi detector in hand.

    Lo and behold, a few

    • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) * on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:04AM (#10940872) Homepage Journal
      So we pulled out our Smart Id WiFi detector, purchased at ThinkGeek and proceeded to walk the streets, laptops in backpacks, Wifi detector in hand.

      Lo and behold, a few blocks from the hotel we found our first wifi hotspot, only to find it was secure. We walked on only to find another secure hotspot. After walking the French Quarter for the next 2 hours we had found several hotspots, but none that we could tap into. Now we realized that we really should have been partying.

      Why can't someone build a WiFi detector that finds the hotspot, flashes if its open and blinks if it can be subscribed to?

      From the article:
      Out in the field, the HS10 works very well. If any networks are found, it stops scanning and then scrolls the SID / name, its strength, whether it is encrypted or open and the channel the network is on. Pressing the button again will continue scanning.

      No other WiFi finder gives you this much information. Knowing whether there are any open networks in the area can save you from powering up / waking up your handtop/laptop, only to find out the network is encrypted. Detection is quick and range is above par, from 300-610 feet.
      The only thing that seems to be missing is detection of whether the network is locked down by MAC address. Isn't the device described above approximately what you are looking for?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You mean you were in the French Quarter, and the only thing you were essentially shouting was, "Show me your... hotspots?" Did you happen to see the thousands of other people with beads? Did you happen to see what the people with beads were doing with them?
  • How about... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    just asking: "hey, is there a wireless internet connection available here?"...
  • by theantix ( 466036 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:48AM (#10940960) Journal
    Most areas these days are covered by the gratis "linksys" network, so just set your essid and join the ranks of people who use "linksys" as our ISP. My apartment had access to two strong "linksys" signals, left completely unsecured by generous donors, and the same network is available at my girlfriend's place a 2.5 hour drive away. These WiFi finders seem pretty useless to me.
    • That's great if you live in a city or affluent suburb near a large city. Things are a bit different where I am.

      I have one wireless network I can subscribe to; my own. The nearest other one is my parents, about 1/4 mile away.

      And neither of them are "linksys."

  • Erm (Score:2, Funny)

    by rodrigogo ( 795954 )
    "While a WiFi Finder / Seeker won't make a connection out of thin air.."

    Isn't that what wireless is supposed to do?
  • by GekkePrutser ( 548776 ) on Monday November 29, 2004 @05:01AM (#10941235)
    The article says that it couldn't test the original Kensington finder, but that they only heard bad news about it. This is true according to my experiences.

    I've got one myself, bought it about a year ago in a typical airport impulse purchase :-) This is the grey-metallic creditcard-sized one with 3 lights. Unfortunately it sucks, the lights are way too dim to be seen in any sunlight and the button is so weak it gets pressed in your pocket and wastes battery power. Besides that it detects any bluetooth phone as well and doesn't mention the difference (so it seems WiFi is detected).

    I've also seen situations where I was able to get a WiFi connection on my laptop and the finder showed none, and the other way around (probably because it detected a bluetooth signal). I can't recommend it at all!

    Just my 2 cents :-)

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