This easy to follow guide will provide you with the steps necessary to troubleshoot wireless network problems that you may be experiencing with your Windows based computer. There are multiple factors that can cause wireless issues but generally speaking the problem is usually the result of interference, driver problems, or failed hardware. If you have a Mac computer and you are experiencing wireless problems then I would recommend that you follow the portions of this guide that deals with the router itself and then click here to read my MacBook wireless troubleshooting guide.
Step 1. Rule Out Interference From 2.4 GHz Cordless Phones
One of the most common causes of wireless connectivity problems are 2.4 GHz cordless phones. The problem is that most wireless routers occupy the very same 2.4 GHz band that your cordless phone uses. I have actually seen entire wireless networks become completely unusable just by picking up and turning on a 2.4 GHz phone! In fact, when I used to install and configure wireless networks for clients I would actually insist that they not use 2.4 GHz cordless phones or I would NOT warranty my work. If you have 2.4 GHz phones in your home and you are experiencing wireless connectivity problems then you really do need to consider replacing your existing cordless phones with models that operate on a different band.
Step 2. Troubleshoot The Wireless Router
The easiest way to troubleshoot your wireless router is to take a second wireless computer (or other wireless device) and connect it to your wireless network. If that device is also having trouble connecting or maintaining wireless connectivity then the issues that you are experiencing are most likely related to your wireless router. If you don’t have access to a second wireless device in your home then you should take your wireless computer (assuming that it’s a laptop) to a place where free wireless Internet access is available. If you are having difficulties on other wireless networks then the problem lies with your computer.
I have listed below some steps that you should take to troubleshoot the router itself. Please be aware that wireless routers and their configurations can vary greatly depending upon the router manufacturer and your ISP. If your ISP provided you with the wireless router then you might consider calling your ISP’s tech support before you attempt to troubleshoot on your own.
- Unplug your router and modem and wait for 1 minute before reconnecting them. Plug in the modem first and wait for another minute before you plug in your wireless router. Test and see if the problem is resolved.
- Move your router to another location (preferably centralized) within your home. This may work to fix your wireless issues because certain building materials can cause interference with wireless networks.
- Change your wireless channel according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A non overlapping channel such as 1, 6, or 11 should be used. If your an advanced user and you are comfortable performing detailed troubleshooting then you might consider downloading a wireless troubleshooting tool called inSSIDer. inSIDDER allows you to scan for surrounding wireless networks and see among other things which wireless channel neighboring WiFi networks are using. Be sure to configure your router with a channel that is not in use. Again, the best channels for you to use are 1, 6, or 11.
- Upgrade your router’s firmware according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Often times a manufacturer will repair problems with their wireless products via firmware update.
- Restore your wireless router to factory defaults according to the manufacturers instructions. Often times this will work to resolve issues with wireless routers.
Other wireless troubleshooting guides that I have seen on the Internet recommend downgrading or eliminating your wireless security settings as part of the troubleshooting process. I cannot and will not in good faith ever recommend to someone that they should downgrade their network or computer security settings. Sorry. I will also say that in my travels as a computer tech I have seen cases where a wireless router cannot be repaired using any of the techniques that I’ve listed above. Routers, like any other electronic device, can and do fail. If you do find that you need to replace your wireless router then you should consider purchasing a Buffalo router such as the WHR-HP-300N.
Step 3. Troubleshoot The Wireless Computer
There are many, many different things that can cause wireless problems on a PC running Microsoft Windows. The steps that you should take to troubleshoot your wireless computer are listed below.
- If you have a desktop computer running Windows XP and you are using a wireless USB adapter to connect to your wireless network then you should consider replacing the USB adapter with an internal PCI wireless adapter. I have been on dozens of jobs where wireless USB adapters just weren’t working properly on computers running Windows XP. Installing a PCI adapter fixed the problem every single time. I found the Linksys WMP54G PCI wireless adapters to be the most reliable.
- Reinstall your antivirus software. Certain antivirus products can cause issues with wireless connectivity. I have found this to hold particularly true for Norton Antivirus 2005-2008. These were bad years for the Norton Antivirus product family as many of you may recall. If you are running an older version of Norton Antivirus and you are having issues with connecting to wireless networks then you should consider updating to a newer antivirus product.
- Make sure that you are using Microsoft’s Wireless Zero Configuration Service (WZC) to connect to wireless networks. Some manufacturers disable this service in lieu of using their own software to connect to wireless networks. There are way too many variations in the different wireless drivers and their respective software packages for me to list so you’ll most likely have to contact your wireless network adapter manufacturer or computer manufacturer for help reenabling the Wireless Zero Configuration Service.
- Rebuild your computer’s TCP/IP stack. TCP/IP is the core networking component of Microsoft Windows and it can become damaged or corrupt. You can use Microsoft Fix it to automatically fix the problem by heading over to the Microsoft support article 299357. Be sure to reboot your computer after you’ve done this. I have used this to fix wireless connectivity problems on many different occasions.
- Reinstall your wireless network driver. Wireless adapter manufacturers frequently address wireless problems in the form of a driver update. Again, their are way too many network adapters out there for me to even begin to list. You will most likely need to contact your computer’s manufacturer for help with this.
Just like wireless routers, your computer’s wireless network adapter is also capable of just flat out failing. If none of the above listed steps worked to fix your wireless problems then you may need to replace your computer’s wireless network card. Fortunately however, it is fairly inexpensive to replace a wireless adapter, even on a laptop computer. Some laptop wireless adapters are user replaceable, others are not. If you believe that your laptop’s wireless adapter has failed and you want a quick, inexpensive fix that doesn’t require opening up your laptop then you can order either a PCMCIA or ExpressCard adapter for your laptop and you’ll be back up and running in no time.
There are many different models of wireless routers and wireless adapters on the market. The products that I recommended in this article have not only gotten great reviews but have also worked very well for me out in the field. You may however have a brand that you have had good luck with in which case you should by all means use a product from THAT particular manufacturer. I did not mention this above but; you might actually consider reinstalling Windows as part of your troubleshooting. I have seen instances (especially after a killer spyware infection) where just about all you can do to fix network problems on a Windows computer is to reinstall the operating system. If you do this, be sure to backup all of your important data beforehand. Lastly, if you do end up having to replace either your router or your network adapter then you should consider upgrading to 802.11n which provides better wireless range and increased wireless speed.