Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Dropped WiFi connections are a pain, and hard to diagnose. I look at a few steps to take to solve the problem.

Occasionally when I start up my 8-year-old Dell Inspiron laptop, the Wi-Fi indicator in the sys tray will show limited or no connectivity. When I disconnect and then reconnect to my desired Wi-Fi network, the problem goes away. This happens at both my home network and at my vacation home. This problem first occurred about a year ago. Is this a sign of a failing Wi-Fi adapter in my PC?

In this excerpt from Answercast #41, I look at problems caused by dropped WiFi connections and some possible troubleshooting steps to take.

Dropped WiFi

First, let me say that I feel your pain. I actually have experienced this on a couple of different machines in a couple of different places.

  • To be honest, I don't have what I would a call,"The answer."

In fact, in many cases, I'm still exploring some of the things that I think might be related to the problem. Coincidentally, earlier today, I ordered myself, a new WiFi access point, thinking that perhaps the WiFi access point is the weak link in my system.

I have seen this on multiple machines. In fact, I've seen it on both my Mac and on my PC based laptops. So I can't really point a specific finger.

To address your question: it is not a sign of a failing WiFi adapter. I believe there's something else going on here.

Interference

The additional things to look for would include things like interference – electrical interference in the WiFi signal.

I had a question, just recently, from someone who had a microwave oven that, when they ran the microwave, would cause the WiFi connection between their laptop and their access point to drop. That's a known issue.

  • Many WiFi connections operate at the same frequency (as it turns out) as your microwave oven.

So, there are definitely opportunities for various kinds of interference to (well...) interfere with WiFi connections. So that's one place that I would start to look.

Distance

I would also make sure that your access points are nearby; that you have a clear, strong signal to and from the access points. And go that way.

But right now, I don't have a really, really clear answer that says, "This is the problem."

All I can really do, right now:

  • Is confirm that I have experienced this myself;

  • I have heard the experience from others;

  • I suspect a weak signal or interference of some sort.

Replacing the access point with one that is perhaps somewhat more powerful, or more highly rated, or recommended, might be a solution. I'm just not sure yet.

Article C5665 - August 6, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Lester
August 7, 2012 8:38 AM

I haven't totally verified this, but I suspect that the modern breed of "green" routers sometimes has something to do with actions like this. My MagicJack, for instance, drops its incoming connection after about three minutes and no one, including MJ and the router tech support can figure out how to change it. I added a switch before the router and run it from there and it works fine. If you have a fairly new router, it may have internal time outs that cause your connection to drop. (My ancient plain jane router doesn't have the problem).

Scott Currier
August 7, 2012 9:40 AM

My experience has been that a limited or no connectivity message means that the DHCP process has failed. The notebook was unable to get DHCP information from the router. Thus it has no address, default gateway, and DNS information.

Rather than disconnecting and reconnecting you can open up a command prompt and do an "ipconfig /renew". I usually do an ipconfig / release" before hand just to be safe. You could put this into a batch file and put an icon for the batch file on the desktop so when you have limited or no connectivity you can tell the system to request an IP address from the router.

If you only use your computer with one wifi base station you can skip the DHCP process altogether and assign an address to the notebook manually. Best to make sure that the address you assign is out of the range of what the DHCP server on your router will give out.

As for lack of signal or an interference problem, you can test for that by trying to reproduce the problem with the notebook placed very close to the wifi base station. If you can reproduce the problem then signal strength and or interference isn't the issue.

Maybe it's time to uninstall the driver and software for the wifi client in your notebook, download the latest and reinstall.

Good luck.

Simon
August 7, 2012 12:28 PM

inSSIDer is a very good tool for monitoring what's going on at different frequencies.

I would recommend setting your wireless access point (or "wireless router") to a different channel, to see if that helps at all.

Michael Horowitz
August 7, 2012 1:57 PM

First check both signal strength and channels used by your neighbors. No OS is good at displaying channels, but on each OS there are apps for this. As previously mentioned inSSIDer is one for Windows. Nirsoft has one I like even better. On an Android device look into WiFi Analyzer. However, these only detect WiFi, if the problem is a cordless phone or microwave oven, you won't see that.

It could be sleep issues with the WiFi network adapter. Configure it never to go to sleep and see if that helps.

There may be nothing you can do, if there are bad guys in your area. There is no security all around the WiFi command to disconnect someone from a network. Bad guys do this on purpose so that they trace/log your re-connection attempt. With a log of the connection handshake, they can do an offline brute force attack to get your WiFi password. All you can do here is use a very looooooooooooong password.

Nascar68117
January 8, 2013 3:58 PM

Cell phone in use. Portable land line phone in use. Garage door opener is in operation.The radio is in use , lowering your signal . Micro Oven,and anything else that is using signals from a Satellite waveform.
Turn off your computer for 10 or more seconds , now you have a signal.

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