Wireless Problems — Dropped Signals and Spotty Connections

What to look for when you can't connect to Wi-Fi

It can be quite frustrating when you're unable to connect a computer or Wi-Fi device to a router, and there's no shortage of reasons why spotty or infrequent connections may occur.

Wireless troubleshooting: Wireless signal drops out frequently

Here's what to do when you often find yourself having to restart your computer or router to reestablish a Wi-Fi connection.

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Remove Interference

Woman plugging in router

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One of the most common causes of dropped or weak Wi-Fi signals is interference from physical objects, such as walls, doors, and filing cabinets. Long distances can also impact signal strength—most unassisted Wi-Fi signals can reach up to 150 feet.

Try moving closer to the wireless router and removing any obstacles between the access point and your device. A clear path or line-of-site to the router is ideal. You can also try placing your home wireless router in a more centralized location in your home.

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Check for Updates

Outdated drivers for your computer, router, or operating system can also cause weak or dropped signals. Check for software or OS updates and install them if they are available. You can also check the manufacturer's website for your router to see if any firmware upgrades are needed.

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Change the Wireless Channel

Sometimes interference is caused by other wireless networks or devices in the area. You may be able to get a clearer signal on your home network by changing the channel that the wireless router is using. You can use a utility like NetStumbler to see what channels nearby wireless networks are using and select a different one for your network. Follow the instructions in your router's manual to access administrative controls (usually you'll be directed to go to a URL like http://192.168.2.1) and find the section where you can select a different channel.

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Boost the Signal

If being too far from the wireless access point or router is the problem, you can get a wireless repeater or wireless extender to extend the range of the wireless network. These "signal amplifiers" are available from Linksys and other makers of networking devices. Cheap ones can be found for less than $50, but they can range up to several hundred dollars. Check prices and reviews on the best wireless extenders.

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Replace Your Router

Unfortunately, the cause of some wireless problems—especially frequently dropped wireless signals—is the router itself. If the suggestions above don't work, try resetting your wireless router to the default settings, then try testing if it can hold a wireless signal. If it cannot, you may need to get a new router. (While you're at it, consider upgrading to wireless-ac.)