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New Wi-Fi features in Windows 10 Anniversary Update

By Eric Geier (Our Owner & Lead Wi-Fi Consultant)

Originally published on NetworkWorld

Last month Microsoft debuted its first major update to Windows 10, technically called version 1607 but generally known as the Anniversary Update. You may have seen stories around the web delving into the update's general improvements including a smarter Cortana, Edge extensions and Windows Ink, but rarely have the Anniversary Update's new Wi-Fi and networking features and interfaces been discussed.

In this story I'll go into detail about these changes -- useful knowledge whether you're a network admin, an IT pro, or just a tech enthusiast. If you ever help with troubleshooting connections or are just a regular old user of networks, knowing the interface changes and new features can really help.

A shortcut in the network list

The network list, accessible via the system tray in the lower-right corner, remains nearly unchanged from Windows 10 version 1511 (the first major update to Windows 10, which was released in November 2015). However, there is one noteworthy addition: Now when you click the network you're currently connected to, you'll see a Properties shortcut, which takes you to the improved properties page for your current Wi-Fi connection, shown later in this story.

That said, you still can't right-click other networks in the network list to see their properties, as you could with Windows 8 and earlier. Personally, I miss that! Nevertheless, Microsoft did make a related improvement that I'll discuss shortly.

Settings app: A new Status tab

As with past Windows 10 updates, Microsoft has migrated more network settings from the old Control Panel interfaces into the Settings app. You can quickly access these by selecting the Network settings shortcut on the network list or by selecting the Settings button (which looks like a gear) on the Start menu and choosing Network & Internet. (As you'll see in a moment, the Network and Sharing Center and other older interfaces are still available too.)

The first tab under the Network & Internet settings is Status, and is new in the Anniversary Update. It offers tasks and shortcuts that are similar to those in the old Network and Sharing Center, but with some additional functionality.

New to the Settings app is the Network troubleshooter shortcut, which provides quick access to the Windows Network Diagnostics wizard that was available in previous versions of Windows.

The View your network properties shortcut leads to a new page of the Settings app that conveniently lists the details of all of your device's network adapters, including their IP, DNS and MAC addresses.

The new Network reset shortcut adds brand-new functionality: With the push of a button it will reinstall all your network adapters, set other networking components back to their default settings, and schedule an automatic reboot. This can be a convenient feature to quickly resolve software- or driver-related issues with the network components. Keep in mind, though, that it will wipe out saved network credentials and may also require reinstalling VPN clients and other third-party network software.

Many of the other shortcuts on the Status page lead to settings in the old interfaces, but I expect more of these will be moved over to the Settings app in the future.

Wi-Fi management tweaks

The next tab, Wi-Fi, has been revamped. Instead of showing the list of nearby list wireless networks as it did in prior Windows 10 versions, it shows you just the one you're currently connected to. But you can click the Show available networks shortcut to bring up the usual network list from the system tray.

The Hardware properties shortcut shows you the details of your wireless adapter, similar to the Advanced options shortcut in previous Windows 10 versions. However, there are some improvements to this page worth mentioning. In addition to showing the IP address of your current connection, the page includes additional wireless details: the network protocol (802.11n, 802.11ac, etc.), network band (2.4GHz or 5GHz) and network channel (1 - 11 or 36 - 165).

These seem like simple pieces of information, but having them listed here can be really convenient when you're troubleshooting wireless issues. Previously, you had to use a third-party Wi-Fi stumbler to get these details.

Back on the Wi-Fi tab, you'll also find the Manage known networks shortcut. Choose this and you'll be able to see and manage the properties of any network you've connected to before, as shown above; you can also "forget" any known networks. In Windows 10 version 1511 you had the ability to manage known networks, but it was buried under other settings.

Additionally, now you can access the properties of saved networks that are out of range in order to toggle the automatic and metered connection options on or off. (In Windows 10 version 1511, the only things you could do with networks you weren't currently connected to was to share or forget them.) The only management setting not available from the Anniversary Update's Wi-Fi tab when you're not connected to a network is the network sharing/discovery setting that toggles between a private and public network classification.

Back on the Wi-Fi tab once again, you'll also find the toggles for Wi-Fi Sense and Paid Wi-Fi services, whereas in Windows 10 version 1511 they were on another page. You might notice that Wi-Fi Sense now lacks the sharing settings, as Microsoft removed the controversial password sharing capability in the Anniversary Update after users voiced privacy concerns.

You'll also see settings for Hotspot 2.0 Networks, a new feature offering an easier way for hotspot operators and users to securely connect when on the go. On the bottom of the Wi-Fi tab, you'll find shortcuts to many of the main older network-related interfaces.

A new mobile hotspot feature

In the Network & Internet settings of the Settings app you'll find a brand-new tab called Mobile hotspot. You can quickly create a virtual wireless network in order to share your Internet connection with other Wi-Fi devices -- especially useful for sharing an Ethernet or 4G data connection, or even to extend a Wi-Fi connection.

This is similar to the wireless hosted network functionality included in previous Windows versions, but is implemented differently. No more fiddling around with Netsh commands or using third-party software like Virtual Router Manager or Connectify. With the mobile hotspot feature, simply select which internet connection you want to share, turn it on, and connect up to eight devices. If your PC is Bluetooth-enabled, you can even remotely turn on the hotspot with another Bluetooth device.

There's already a default network name (SSID) chosen for the Wi-Fi signal and a randomly generated password defined for the Wi-Fi encryption, both of which you can change before turning on the hotspot. (Note that you must input some type of password with eight characters or more; you can't disable the Wi-Fi security altogether.)

The remaining tabs in the Network & Internet settings are nearly the same as in Windows 10 version 1511.

Tweaks to the Network and Sharing Center

The good old Network and Sharing Center is still available, and is still accessible by right-clicking the network icon in the system tray. The information shown there remains nearly the same as in Windows 10 version 1511.

One small change is a new Infrared shortcut in the lower-left corner. Windows now includes a native utility for managing the settings of any infrared sensors your computer might have. This includes turning on or off the ability to receive images or other files via infrared devices. You can also choose where to store the files and pictures that you receive.

Another notable difference is that Microsoft removed the ability to adjust the priority of network connections and bindings via the Advanced Settings interface. In Windows 10 version 1511 and prior, you could access these settings from the Network and Sharing Center -- despite the fact that they had been disabled since the original Windows 10 release. Now Microsoft has finally removed them altogether in version 1607. Though the shortcut still appears in the Network Connections window, only the Provider Order settings remain.

Check out the changes for yourself

Now that you're acquainted with the major Wi-Fi and network improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, play around with them yourself. Of course, you need to be on a PC that has already been updated. If you aren't sure, check the version: Open the Settings app, choose the System category, select About from the menu on the left, and look for the Version listed. If your PC still doesn't have the update, you can manually install it.

Remember, you can use the system tray's network list to quickly access your current Wi-Fi connection properties in the Settings app, where you'll now see the wireless protocol, band and channel. While you're in the Settings app, also check out the network Status page, particularly the newly added shortcuts for the Network troubleshooter and Network reset features, and have a look at the renovated Wi-Fi tab and brand-new mobile hotspot feature.

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