Wireless Wi-Fi Detector
HS-10 Digital Wi-Fi Hotspotter
The Canary Wireless
Hotspot detector uniquely shows you information about the
Wi-Fi networks it detects.
It is an excellent
device and a great convenience when traveling. It can
also be used to map out your wireless network coverage at
home or work.
Now you don't need to cross
your fingers and hope when turning on your laptop, in search of
a Wi-Fi connection.
The Canary Wireless Hotspotter
will tell you within 5 - 10 seconds all you need to know about
any nearby Wi-Fi networks.
Easy and quick to operate,
small and light to carry, and only $60 to purchase.
What you get
The Canary Wireless HS-10
Digital Wi-Fi Hotspotter comes in an easily opened blister pack.
Inside is the unit itself, a small sheet of operating
instructions, and the two AAA batteries which the device uses.
The little unit measures
2.5" x 2.25" x 1" and weighs 2.5 ounces with batteries
No information on warranty
coverage is provided, but
Wireless's website advises the unit has a
90 day warranty. Not only is this a very short warranty
period, but the terms of the warranty are somewhat unfriendly - the
company says that they have a goal to repair or replace the unit
within 30 days of receipt. A better and surely achievable goal
is to do this within
30 hours, or even 30 minutes.
The terms of the warranty go
on to explain that if your unit has to be replaced, the warranty
on the replacement unit is the shorter of either 30 days or the
remainder of the original warranty period. This means if
your unit fails the first day you receive it, the replacement
has only a 30 day remaining warranty rather than the balance of
the full 90 days you thought you had.
The Canary Wireless unit is
intended to detect 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi networks. It will not
work with 802.11a or 802.11n networks. Although the numbers
are very similar,
these represent different types of technology that isn't part of the Wi-Fi standard.
This unit scans 13 channels.
The US implementation of Wi-Fi uses only the first 11 channels
(with most Wi-Fi devices using channel 1, 6 or 11). In
Europe, they use 13 channels, and in Japan there is a 14th
Surprisingly, the unit
doesn't detect all Wi-Fi access points. Some types of
Wi-Fi base stations broadcast beacon frames at a higher frame
rate than the detector can process (aren't you glad to know
that!). Canary Wireless say that the unit detects over 95%
of all access points, and enhancing the unit to detect the
remaining 5% would be cost prohibitive. This is strange
reasoning, when presumably all Wi-Fi cards can detect all access
points, and cost as little as $20.
The battery life varies
depending on how often you use the unit. You should expect
a 2 - 3 month life if you're using the unit 2 or 3 times a day.
But most people will leave the unit untouched for many months
between using it, and while the unit is not being used, the
batteries are also not being used, so the unit has a storage
life equal to that of the batteries.
You get a 'battery
low' message on the screen when the batteries need replacing,
and sometimes you might get strange characters appearing as
Because the unit uses
standard AAA batteries, it is easy to replace them any time.
Canary Wireless do not
recommend using rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable Ni-MH or
Ni-Cad batteries have lower voltage (1.2 compared to just over
1.5 volts), and the 2.4 volts from two
rechargeable batteries is insufficient to correctly drive some
of the electronics in the unit.
Why you need a Wi-Fi Detector
This unit doesn't do
anything that most Wi-Fi cards and their associated software
won't also do for you, within your laptop. So why would
you choose to spend $60 on Canary Wireless' detector when you
have the same capabilities built in to your laptop for free?
The unit has several
advantages over your laptop. It is small, lightweight,
quick and simple. Imagine sitting in the airport
waiting for your flight - you need to take
your laptop out of its case, boot it up, then switch on your Wi-Fi service and see if it will find a signal you can access.
If it fails to find one, you then have to power your laptop down
again and return it to its case. A time consuming and
With the HS-10 detector, you
simply push the button, and in a few seconds, you'll know if
there are any Wi-Fi networks in range that you can use or not.
This is very much easier.
There is another use for the
unit, and that is using it to measure the coverage of your Wi-Fi
network. You can walk through your offices, or the rooms
of your house, and see how the signal strength varies. If
there are some areas with poor signal, you can then try moving
the base unit, or perhaps you will need to buy a second base
unit for more complete coverage.
Corporate IT users can also
use the unit as a quick way of auditing their office to ensure
that there aren't any unauthorized open networks.
Using the Wi-Fi Hotspot
It is very simple to use.
Simply press the only button on the unit then read the
information shown on the display. The LCD
screen tells you it is scanning for networks, then after a
short while (usually less than five seconds, never more than
ten) it either reports the first network it has encountered or
tells you there are no networks within range.
After you've viewed the
information on the network it has located, you simply press the
button to have it continue scanning until it either finds a new
network or brings you back to the first network.
The unit tells you four
things about each network it detects :
The network's name (SSID).
This is very helpful - for example, if you have access to,
eg, the T-mobile Hotspot services, then if you see a
T-mobile network, you know you can conveniently log on to it.
Signal Strength. The
unit seems to be at least as sensitive as my Wi-Fi card in
detecting networks, and gives each network a signal strength
reading of between one and four bars. A network with
only a single bar might be difficult to reliably connect to
with your PC, while obviously 3 or 4 bars means the network
is going to give you a good connection.
If this is a secure or open
network. Note you can't always be assured of
getting free access to an open network, and of course
sometimes a network which is 'open' is not intended for use
by the public. You can sometimes get access to secure
networks, especially if you have an authorized logon ID.
Which channel it is on.
This is of minor interest only, but if you see two networks
both on channel 6 and another network on channel 5, then the
chances are you'll experience interference and problems if
trying to connect to any of the three networks.
I tested the unit at home.
Depending on where I was - downstairs, on the deck upstairs, or
outside, I could receive between 1 and 4 different nearby
networks (not including my own), and, to my amazement, in total there were six
different networks found (there only seem to be five other
houses within Wi-Fi range).
In contrast, my laptop,
using a Netgear MA401
Wi-Fi PC-Card, would detect between 0 and 2 nearby networks,
and in total the Netgear card found only three of the six
Plainly the Canary
Hotspotter was much better at finding distant and weak network
signals than my PC's Wi-Fi card.
Finding weak signals
If you're looking for weak
signals, it helps to hold the unit up in the air, and between
your thumb and forefinger so as not to shield the internal
antenna. You'll also find that sometimes you'll get
networks displaying if you rotate the unit 90 degrees after your
first set of scanning (due to some directional properties in the
unit's antenna) and then a 'different' 90 degrees after the
second cycle of scans (ie so it is oriented for the x, y and z
axes in a three dimensional plane).
Note that weak networks may appear on one scan
cycle but not on the next. And also, of course, some
networks may not always be switched on.
Do you really need to
find ultra-weak signals? Probably not. There is
little point in finding a very weak signal if your computer's Wi-Fi transceiver won't then communicate with it.
But you can use the information about weak networks to then
direct you towards where the network is stronger, so this
information can be of value if you're able to move towards where
the weak network becomes stronger.
There is a wide range of
sensitivities in Wi-Fi cards - reputedly more than 10dB between
the best and worst, so it is helpful to match up the signal
strengths reported on the Hotspotter with the signal strengths
reported by your computer's Wi-Fi card. Just because the
Hotspotter finds a network doesn't mean that your computer will
also detect it and be able to effectively log on and use it.
Comparison with other Wi-Fi
Most other products that
detect Wi-Fi networks offer only a set of four or five LEDs to display signal
strength. They don't have an LCD screen to display the
helpful and sometimes essential information that the Canary
Wireless unit does.
The simplest of other
devices simply report on the presence of any radio signals in
the Wi-Fi frequency band, which can be misleading, because lots
of other devices operate in the same frequency band. More
advanced ones will filter out and only report Wi-Fi signals,
but they don't tell you anything more about them, such as if
they public or private, or who they are operated by.
You'll still need to speculatively power up your laptop to see
if you can use the detected network(s) or not.
Only the Canary Wireless
unit tells you everything you need to know to understand exactly
what Wi-Fi signals are out there and to decide if you should
power up your laptop, etc.
At $59.95 this unit is twice
the cost of some of its lower priced competitors. Is it
worth the extra money? We think definitely so.
This is a very easy to
operate and very helpful device. It takes up little space
and little weight in your 'road warrior kit' and if you seek to
use Wi-Fi while traveling, you'll quickly find it an essential
Although other devices
are less expensive, they're also much less helpful, and for that
reason, we prefer and recommend this unit.
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10 June 2005, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.