August 13, 2012, 8:03 AM — Wireless Internet networks afford us the luxury of browsing the Web cable-free, but a connection that relies on radio waves is subject to failure due to interference, signal range limits, hardware problems, and operator error. With that in mind, we've put together a quick guide to the most common Wi-Fi troubles and how to fix them.
If you're struggling with your Wi-Fi network at home or in the office, read on to discover a few different ways to troubleshoot your Wi-Fi woes and restore your wireless network.
Check Your Laptop for a Wi-Fi Button or Switch
Having trouble connecting to Wi-Fi in your favorite coffee shop or airport lounge? The problem might be right under your fingertips. If your laptop or netbook isn't connecting to a local wireless router at all and you can't view a list of nearby wireless networks, check to see if your laptop has a Wi-Fi button or switch that you may have pressed accidently. Many laptops include a function button (labeled with an icon representing a wireless router or network) on the top of the keyboard, or a switch on the front or sides of the laptop. If you find such a button, check to see whether pressing it enables you to get connected.
Reboot Your Computer and Your Wireless Router
If you still can't connect a computer or device, reboot it. This step sounds simple, but your router, your PC's Wi-Fi adapter, or your operating system may have a software or firmware problem that a simple reboot would fix. If some or all of your devices refuse to connect, try unplugging the router for 5 to 10 seconds and then plugging it back in. This technique of "power cycling" your router is a tried-and-true method for restoring a previously functional wireless network to good working order.
Change the Wi-Fi Channel on the Router
Most Wi-Fi routers and devices use the 2.4GHz radio band, which has 11 channels in the United States. Unfortunately, only 3 of the 11 channels can run simultaneously without overlapping or interfering with each other: channels 1, 6, and 11. Worse, many routers are set to broadcast on channel 6 by default. Consequently, interference from other routers in the vicinity is a common source of connectivity problems, especially in densely populated areas such as apartment complexes and shopping centers. Other radios that use the 2.4GHz band--for example, baby monitors and cordless phones--and other electrical devices (such as microwave ovens) can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, too.
To see if other wireless routers might be interfering, take a look at the list of nearby wireless networks. If you're using Windows, click the network icon in the lower right corner. If you see other network names, especially those with more than one bar of signal, they could be interfering with your signal.