How Do You Find a Router Set Up in an Unknown Location in a House?

Altering or expanding the capabilities of a Wi-Fi network that you have set up in your own home is one thing, but what do you do when someone else performed the installation and did an exceptional job of “hiding” the router in a discreet, out-of-the-way location? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has some useful suggestions to help a frustrated reader find an elusive router.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader SimonS wants to know how to find a router that has been previously set up in an “unknown” location in a house:

I want to install a WLAN repeater in my father’s holiday house that he rents out to other people. My father is not that well-versed when it comes to digital electronics and does not know where the router is, therefore I am unable to configure my repeater with the router.

Are there any tools that could help me find where the router is in his house? I know that there are tools that tell you which Ethernet cable is in use and where it points to, so I figured that there should also be tools that can help me find the router.

By tools, I do not necessarily mean just software, I am also thinking about hardware-based tools. I have tried going around the house using my mobile phone to search for the area with the best connection to the network, but have had no luck in finding the router.

Additional Information:

Due to the comments asking for more information about the router, it is a normal ADSL/VDSL Wi-Fi capable router distributed by the market leading ISP in my country (it is also WPS capable).

How do you find a router that has been previously set up in an “unknown” location in a house?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors gronostaj, dotancohen, and Xen2050 have the answer for us. First up, gronostaj:

If you have an Android mobile phone or tablet, you can use the Wi-Fi Analyzer app. It has a screen dedicated to detecting the proximity of access points.

Walk around the house and see where the signal is the strongest.

Followed by the answer from dotancohen:

You are going to laugh, but I went through the same exact situation. I could not find my mother-in-law’s router since the cable company was the one responsible for installing it.

When my nephews came over, they wanted to access the Wi-Fi with their Samsung Tablet. I told them that the Wi-Fi code was on a sticker on the bottom of the router. They turned the whole house upside-down and found the router on a top shelf in the cupboard. I have no idea why it was placed there, but suspect it was for better reception. The wire running to it went through a wall, so it was obviously not an easy place to install. That technician really gave it his best.

So find some kids with a tablet and invite them over. They will definitely find the router if that is what stands between them and Facebook or other online activities.

And our final answer from Xen2050:

Barring an obvious wire leading to it, searching by Wi-Fi signal strength should be a good approach. The “walk around blindly with a strength meter” approach is not very helpful, so use an app that will map it for you like ekahau Heat Mapper.

It can make a map for you that should give you a better idea of which areas to concentrate your search in. It is for Windows and see the guide for using it. The guide says that it is “essentially the free version” of the multi-thousand-dollar Ekahau SiteSurvey software. The best part is that it may find the router for you.

Once we finished walking the entire map, HeatMapper pinpointed the location of the two access points within our office with uncanny precision. Look at the red arrows on the map below:

There are some Android and iPhone apps that should be similar as well. Try searching for one that works on your device, perhaps Telstra Wi-Fi Maximiser (for Android). Here is a screenshot for it:

My First Ideas Were:

1. I would just follow the wiring in the house, starting from where it enters the house and checking wherever the main cable or telephone junctions are. You did not say if it was telephone/DSL, television (coax) cable, pure network cable, or fiber optic, but they all enter the house from somewhere (unless you have all underground utilities). They probably do not enter through the basement, or the “tube” would still come up from the ground somewhere outside the house.

If a technician installed the router and/or network cable recently (i.e. not originally built into the house), then try looking around the main television or telephone areas (high and low anywhere within reach). Check for mystery power cords plugged in around those areas and follow them.

2. Contact the Internet service provider and ask them where they installed it. Perhaps most of the houses in the area have a standard layout, or the installers always put them on the floor under television sets, or in attics or someplace unexpected. They just might have been diligent enough to make notes about where it is in the house.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.
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