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October 2, 2009 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What's killing my wi-fi connection?

The last few days I've been having some odd problems with my wireless network. I'll be browsing on my laptop when all of a sudden things get really slow, as if I lost the connection. But instead of being sent to "This page is not available" or "server not found" pages like when there really is no connection, I just get stuck loading forever. So if I open a tab and go to Google, it will sit and load saying "Waiting for www.google.com" in the status bar for a minute or two, then eventually say "Done" -- even though the only thing that has loaded is a completely blank tab (even the source code of the page is empty) with the raw URL in the title bar.

But throughout all this, there's no indication that I've lost my connection. The wifi icon in the system tray doesn't change, and says I'm connected if I hover over it. When I open up the Command Prompt and enter ipconfig /all, it says all my internet connection stats are normal. The subnet mask, DHCP server, DNS, etc. are all there. The IP address doesn't start with 169. It's all okay.

Weirdest of all, despite the fact that I can see that all the connection info is normal, if I enter my router's IP address into the address bar (which usually takes me to the router's settings page), it just does the same thing. Load... load... load... blank tab. I understand not being able to connect to the internet, but if I can see all my connection and router info in Command Prompt, why can't I connect to the same router with my browser?

The only way to fix it, I've found, is to disconnect from the wireless network and reconnect. It'll then work fine for anywhere from one minute to fifteen, at which point the connection drops again. This is only affecting my laptop, by the way -- iPods and other laptops connect fine.

I've tried restarting my computer, restarting the router, and repairing the connection -- nothing works. It seems that getting closer to the router improves things, but I'm not sure since the problem comes and goes randomly. And besides, the router is in the same place as it's always been, so unless it's suddenly lost broadcasting power I don't see what would cause the problem. And in the "View Wireless Networks" window, it says the network has an Excellent signal when I'm not connected (though that decreases a bar or two once I do).

The only incident I can think of is that a power surge recently burnt out the power supply, and I had to buy a universal one with an adapter to get the router up and running again. But this was a week or two before the trouble started, so that's probably not the source.

Is there anything that would cause a wireless router to lose signal strength like that? Is there something I can do to fix it, or should I just spring for a new one?

Details: I have a Dell laptop running Windows XP SP3. I have a Bellsouth Fast Access DSL internet connection. The router is a 2Wire HomePortal 1700HW. The loading problem happens on Firefox, Chrome, and IE7.

One more detail I remembered: For awhile when the problem first started, ipconfig /all was giving me some weird info. For instance, it said that the "lease" for the connection expired one second after it was obtained. But it's not doing that anymore.
posted by Rhaomi to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it possible something recently introduced to your environment (or someone else's environment, if you're in an apartment or office building with lots of neighbors) is causing interference with your signal? Once in a while I'll be somewhere away from home and have a problem a lot like you describe, and usually I realize someone's using a microwave or cordless phone a few feet away.
posted by usonian at 1:50 PM on October 2, 2009


First, does your computer have this problem connecting to other wireless networks, including other password protected ones?

Since the router seems to be working fine with other laptops the following may not be particularly helpful but they are at least things you can try.

Does the universal power supply have the same voltage and amperage rating as the original? If not, since most power supplies, at least the cheap wall-wart kind, are unregulated, you'll end up with higher or lower voltage unless it's the same current rating as specified. Also, how do you know there was a power surge?

Have you tried resetting the router? Often there's a small pinhole where you can stick a paperclip or pen to reset the device back to original settings, or some other small switch. Power cycling alone won't accomplish this. When you set it back up try a different network name and password(s), so there isn't an issue with the old profile on your computer.

Have you tried connecting to the router with an ethernet cable to bypass the wireless? Often the wireless will go out or go flaky but the router will still work in a wired configuration.

If your computer can connect to other wireless networks and still has a problem with this router and resetting it doesn't help it may be time for a new router. Lots of questions or wireless routers here but my conclusion is that as cheap, commodity hardware one shouldn't expect long service out of them, nor do any particular models or brands at the consumer seem to be significantly more reliable, as far as I can tell.
posted by 6550 at 2:01 PM on October 2, 2009


No environmental changes I'm aware of, usonian.

6550: "First, does your computer have this problem connecting to other wireless networks, including other password protected ones?

Nope, just at home. Other networks work like a charm.

Since the router seems to be working fine with other laptops the following may not be particularly helpful but they are at least things you can try.

Does the universal power supply have the same voltage and amperage rating as the original? If not, since most power supplies, at least the cheap wall-wart kind, are unregulated, you'll end up with higher or lower voltage unless it's the same current rating as specified. Also, how do you know there was a power surge?


I made sure of it, since it wouldn't work or could even damage the router otherwise. I assume a power surge happened since I've had trouble with several other devices as well (though I've gotten those problems cleared up since).

Have you tried resetting the router? Often there's a small pinhole where you can stick a paperclip or pen to reset the device back to original settings, or some other small switch. Power cycling alone won't accomplish this. When you set it back up try a different network name and password(s), so there isn't an issue with the old profile on your computer.

I'll try this if the problem continues. Right now I'm sitting about ten feet from the router and the connection remains solid. I'm pretty sure it's a distance problem at this point.

Have you tried connecting to the router with an ethernet cable to bypass the wireless? Often the wireless will go out or go flaky but the router will still work in a wired configuration.

Wired connections are fine, I've found, if inconvenient.

If your computer can connect to other wireless networks and still has a problem with this router and resetting it doesn't help it may be time for a new router. Lots of questions or wireless routers here but my conclusion is that as cheap, commodity hardware one shouldn't expect long service out of them, nor do any particular models or brands at the consumer seem to be significantly more reliable, as far as I can tell."

Well, it is a few years old -- that might just be the case.

The router I have was supplied by Bellsouth -- would you recommend getting a replacement through them or buying another, more powerful one?
posted by Rhaomi at 2:07 PM on October 2, 2009


Ive discovered my cordless phone drops any and all wireless connections in my home when it rings and is in use. I could see it affecting neighboring homes/apt if they are within the range of cordless phone reception.
posted by edman at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2009


Someone did something a while ago in my 'hood (no clue what) but it KILLED my wireless, a lot like this.

Luckily I was able to search AskMe on a wired connection. The answer was to switch my wireless from the default channel (2??) to a different one. Cleared it up instantly.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:12 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cordless phone and (some) microwaves interfere with the 802.11 spectrum. It's possible someone near you installed something new.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 2:18 PM on October 2, 2009


If none of the above work:

Have a friend come over with their laptop, and just hang out while browsing for awhile. See if when it happens to you, does it happen to them? If it does, it's the router, or the channel it's broadcasting on.

It could be the laptop itself.

Try making a new user account, and browse for awhile with that. Same problem?

It could be the wireless card, or more likely, the drivers. Uninstall the drivers under "device manager," reboot, and have the computer (automatically) find and re-install the driver.
posted by chambers at 2:21 PM on October 2, 2009


If its interference then changing the channel usually helps. There are 3 non-overlapping channels in wifi: 1, 6, and 11. If you are using 6 then try 1 or 11. You can change this from your router's admin screen.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:28 PM on October 2, 2009


If it is truly only happening to YOUR laptop... then I would assume its something with that specific laptop (the only exception being that perhaps some environmental interference is specific enough that it only affects YOUR laptops wireless chip/controller. ---- rare, but I have seen it myself in person)

First thing I would do is disable the wireless.... plug your laptop into the router with a wired connection.. and surf like a madman to see if you can reproduce the problem. (atleast that way you can be sure its the wireless and not a larger networking problem)

Have you tried updating your wireless drivers?

Have you tried updating your routers firmware? (I don't know 2Wire's well enough to know if they do that.. but I've done it on Linksys and Dlink routers)
posted by jmnugent at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2009


Update your router firmware as well as your computer's software -- it can make a world of difference sometimes. Here's the download link for 2Wire router firmware.
posted by suedehead at 4:30 PM on October 2, 2009


I'd suggest you download (freeware) Network Stumbler, and take a look at other wireless networks within range. This software will even pick up really weak signals that Windows' tools filter out. Look at the Channel each is set on in particular, and try changing your router to be on the least frequented one among them.

I've had problems like you describe simply because a neighbor had moved into my frequency-space by changing channels, and I get dropped connections or really slow speeds (connecting at 2-18Mbps rather than 54 and lots of dropped packets).
posted by tybeet at 6:05 PM on October 2, 2009


Tweaking the various things suggested has had no noticeable effect (I'll try the firmware update next). I'm pretty sure it's a distance issue at this point, because I've had zero loss of signal when next to the router but begin seeing connection drops as soon as I move a room or two away.

The only odd thing is that, even when I cannot load any website, I can still ping them. Here's the result of several Command Prompt tests during a period of non-connectivity:
C:\Documents and Settings\Jordan>ipconfig /all

Windows IP Configuration

Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : Jordan
Primary Dns Suffix . . . . . . . :
Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Broadcast
IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
DNS Suffix Search List. . . . . . : gateway.2wire.net

Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection:

Media State . . . . . . . . . . . : Media disconnected
Description . . . . . . . . . . . : Broadcom NetXtreme 57xx Gigabit Controller
Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX

Ethernet adapter Wireless Network Connection:

Connection-specific DNS Suffix . : gateway.2wire.net
Description . . . . . . . . . . . : Intel(R) PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection
Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX
Dhcp Enabled. . . . . . . . . . . : Yes
Autoconfiguration Enabled . . . . : Yes
IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.xxx.xxx.xxx
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . : 255.255.255.0
Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . : 192.xxx.xxx.xxx
DHCP Server . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.xxx.xxx.xxx
DNS Servers . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.xxx.xxx.xxx
Lease Obtained. . . . . . . . . . : Friday, October 02, 2009 2:13:36 PM
Lease Expires . . . . . . . . . . : Saturday, October 03, 2009 2:13:36 PM
This all looks ship-shape to me, though I may be missing something.

Next I try pinging the router's IP address:
C:\Documents and Settings\Jordan>ping 192.xxx.xxx.xxx

Pinging 192.xxx.xxx.xxx with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 192.xxx.xxx.xxx: bytes=32 time=11ms TTL=255
Reply from 192.xxx.xxx.xxx: bytes=32 time=3ms TTL=255
Reply from 192.xxx.xxx.xxx: bytes=32 time=3ms TTL=255
Reply from 192.xxx.xxx.xxx: bytes=32 time=3ms TTL=255

Ping statistics for 192.xxx.xxx.xxx:
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
Minimum = 3ms, Maximum = 11ms, Average = 5ms
It pings fine. And yet before and after doing this I'm completely unable to access my router's settings by navigating to 192.xxx.xxx.xxx in my browser. How about Google?
C:\Documents and Settings\Jordan>ping google.com

Pinging google.com [74.125.127.100] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 74.125.127.100: bytes=32 time=115ms TTL=42
Reply from 74.125.127.100: bytes=32 time=113ms TTL=42
Reply from 74.125.127.100: bytes=32 time=116ms TTL=42
Reply from 74.125.127.100: bytes=32 time=118ms TTL=42

Ping statistics for 74.125.127.100:
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
Minimum = 113ms, Maximum = 118ms, Average = 115ms
Again, I can ping Google but cannot load it or any other page in my browser.

What could cause this? I'm stumped.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:21 PM on October 2, 2009


Wait a minute... I noticed in reviewing my Command Prompt log that the IP address given for the DNS server is the same as the one given for the Default Gateway and the DHCP servers. Is this normal? It doesn't look right, but I'm not exactly an expert.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:27 PM on October 2, 2009


In most cases, your router by default acts as your DNS server, but I'd seriously consider changing it to use OpenDNS: use 208.67.222.222/220.220 as primary/secondary.

Also, does changing your IP address to one not assigned by the DHCP server fix it? Set the IP address and such manually, and see if it still is buggered up. (Can't imagine this fixing it, but you never know.)

Finally, have you tried an alternate browser? The fact that this is all happening, but you can still ping sites/connection is still there, makes me wonder if you're having some issues with whatever browser you're using. Try downloading/using a different one from your default.
posted by liquado at 9:17 PM on October 2, 2009


On post-preview & post-posting, I see that it happens across browsers -- bad Liquado, learn to read better.
posted by liquado at 9:21 PM on October 2, 2009


How can it be a DNS issue, though? When I ping a website it translates the URL into an IP address just fine.

What's bizarre is that this shows every sign of being a weak signal problem (the further away I am from the router, the spottier the connection is) and yet when I get as far from the router as I can without climbing out the window, I can still ping websites and fetch DNS records just fine. So the information is getting from the router to my laptop, but isn't transferring to any browser, and the lack of transfer gets worse with distance.

But why would distance from the router affect how reliably my laptop renders information it already has? I'm assuming that being able to ping websites swiftly and without packet loss means you have a solid connection. So if the problem is inside my machine, why would distance make the problem worse?
posted by Rhaomi at 9:33 PM on October 2, 2009


Well, I fixed it (sort of). I'm still baffled by the "can ping/can't browse" issue, but I did manage to find a hitherto-undiscovered phone jack behind a trunk, letting me put the router in a more central location. Everything's working fine now.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:55 PM on October 3, 2009


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