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Apple Mac OS X: Choose your preferred Wi-Fi network

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The number of wireless networks is growing rapidly and many people have them at home for the convenience of not having to run networking cables around the house in order to get one or more computers on the internet. Businesses use them, airports have them, hotels have them and stores and coffee shops in the high street have them.

The chances are that if you use Wi-Fi there will be two or more wireless networks within reach of your computer. Which should it connect to? If you are using your computer at home then obviously you want to connect to your own wireless network and not your next door neighbours, but how do you make sure yours is the one you connect to? The situation is worse with a MacBook in a public place and there might be several Wi-Fi networks you could connection to. So how do you choose which one to use?

You can view a list of available wireless networks by clicking the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar. Keep the menu open for a few seconds and it scans for networks and adds their names to the menu. Then you can select the one that you want to connect to. Of course, networks can be locked to keep them private, so you might not be able to connect to everything you see.

The signal strength of wireless networks sometimes varies and you might access the menu when it is temporarily low for the one you want to access and it might not appear on the menu. Wait a second or two and the menu refreshes the list.

Auto connect to your favourite Wi-Fi

When there are several Wi-Fi networks to connect to, which one will the Mac connect to? The first one it finds? No. It rememebers Wi-Fi networks it has connected to and keeps them in a list. It simply goes down the list starting with the first and connects to the first one that is available. So if there are two Wi-Fi networks available at your current location, the Mac will connect to the one that is higher in the list.

By rearranging the order of the list, you can choose which network is connected to automatically. This can be very useful and you can put your home Wi-Fi higher than your neighbours', Starbucks above Costa if there are two coffee shops next to each other and you have a choice of which Wi-Fi to connect to.

Click the Apple menu in the top left corner and select System Preferences. Click the Network icon in the Internet & Wireless section. (Make sure the box labelled Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar is ticked because it's a useful menu bar item.)

Preferred wi-fi networks

Click the Advanced button and select the Wi-Fi tab. You will see a list of all the wireless networks that you have ever joined.

The order of the networks in the list is important and the Mac will try each one in turn starting at the top. So if you can see you and a neighbour's networks, click and drag your network to the top of the list and the Mac will try to connect to it first. You are then much less likely to accidentally connect to your neighbour's.

You can order the other networks by clicking and dragging them too, so if you use Starbucks Wi-Fi, then drag it up the list so it's tried before any others that might be available. You can also remove Wi-Fi networks to stop the Mac automatically connecting to them. Select a Wi-Fi network and click the - button. This doesn't stop you joining the network manually and it can still be selected on the menu bar Wi-Fi menu, it just prevents the Mac connecting without asking.

Related tips...

Lion's secret Wi-Fi Diagnostics
Scan for wireless networks
How to improve your wi-fi network

More Mac and OS X tips


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