Chances are, you have a Wi-Fi network at home. It’s the most convenient way of distributing a single connection to every internet-capable device in your house, after all. A single Wi-Fi router should be enough to let you get online from a phone or a laptop any room in your house without having to mess with wires and cables.
Because Wi-Fi relies on radio waves rather than physical lines, it will, occasionally, suffer from different kinds of problems than what you’ll get with a regular wired network. There is an assortment of things that can affect it that wouldn’t really mess with more traditional networks, such as signal range limits and radio interference.
If you’re experiencing Wi-Fi troubles, these are the things you should do:
1. Check if your device’s Wi-Fi radio is turned on.
This one might be obvious. Oftentimes, though, it’s the obvious things that get you in a bind because they’re so routine, you don’t even bother to check them. So go and check whether the Wi-Fi light in your laptop is turned on; if you’re on a tablet or smartphone, check if the Wi-Fi is connected.
First, reboot your computer (or smartphone). If you still can’t connect, then reboot the router. If that doesn’t work, unplug the router for a few minutes, then start it back up. While “power cycling” sounds like something idiots will do, it’s actually a tried and tested solution for many types of consumer electronics. If your problem is connecting online and it still persists, reboot the modem, too.
3. Change the Wi-Fi channel on your router.
Most Wi-Fi routers use the 2.4GHz radio band, where only a few of the channels are allowed to run simultaneously without overlapping or interfering with each other. It’s perfectly possible you’re experiencing an interference on the channel the radio is transmitting on, especially when you have neighbors running their networks on the same Wi-Fi channel. Other possible sources for interference are, pretty much, any radios that use the 2.4Ghz band, including baby monitors and cordless phones.
The quick fix is to modify your router settings to use a different channel. Log in to your router’s control panel from a browser (usually found at http://192.168.1.1 or http://192.168.0.1), choose any one randomly and check until you find a clear channel. If you want to be more thorough, however, you can first check all the different channels your neighbors are using. There are plenty of utilities for this, both paid and free, including InSSIDer and Wi-Fi Detective.
By the way, since you’re having problems with your Wi-Fi, you won’t be able to do this wirelessly. As such, you’ll need to use a cable from your router to your computer to do the above operations.
4. Reposition the router.
If Wi-Fi is good in certain areas of the house, but not where you need to use it, then just physically reposition it. The less walls and floors there is between you and the router, the better.
Before repositioning, though, make sure that really is the problem by checking whether your router’s antenna is completely attached and turned upright. Also, beware of flanking the router antenna with objects — those immediate obstacles can cause the signal to degrade very early (hence, making it harder to spread around the house). As much as possible, put it out in the open — not by a wall, not under the stairs and not inside a closed shelf.
5. Reinstall the software.
If the Wi-Fi problem is constrained to one machine, then it’s possible it’s a software problem on that particular device. Consider reinstalling Wi-Fi drivers and software. Most of the time, you’ll have an installer of this included in your laptop’s package. You can also download them from the manufacturer’s website. If you’re not sure quite how to do all that, a Driver Update application should provide all the assistance and guidance you need.
6. Restore to Factory Default.
If you’ve tried a bunch of things and the router’s still messing up, then you might just want to give it a proper reset. That is, remove all the settings and changes you’ve previously made by restoring it back to its original state right after you took it out of its box. This could work if the router problem is caused by some change in the settings that you can’t quite trace.
This is a desperate move, by the way, so only resort to it once you’ve exhausted the options. You’ll basically lose everything — all the permissions, QDOS settings, passwords and such — so you’ll need to put them in manually once again.
6. Upgrade the firmware.
If nothing continues to work, then you might want to upgrade the router’s firmware. While this only works when you’re dealing with a technical problem on the router’s end, it’s still worth the try. On top of that, you get update router software which could add a little more security and functionality to your wireless home network.
To do this, check the current firmware version on your router from the Control Panel. Next, go the router manufacturer’s website (there’s usually a link to it on the Control Panel) and search for the latest firmware for your specific router model. If it’s newer than the one you have, download and install it by following manufacturer directions.
7. Use open-source firmware.
Most manufacturer firmware don’t fully take advantage of what their hardware can do. For the most part, they do this to avoid more problems down the line, as well as control feature availability for marketing purposes. That’s why many people now use open-source firmware on their routers in order to maximize the functions it can do.
If a firmware update doesn’t fix your Wi-Fi woes, then you can try this route. Remember, though: this is a last-ditch stand with a good chance of not working (worse, it can brick your router). Still, if nothing else is working, it’s worth the try.
8. Replace it.
In case none of the above works, you’re probably better off ditching your existing router and buying a new one. You’re lucky — routers are very affordable now. Even ones with the most advanced features won’t go past $80 or $90. If you’re willing to settle for basic features, you can get one for $30 (even less during clearouts), so it might even be a good preventative measure to keep one around for backup.