If I get too far from the wireless port, my password is suddenly invalid. Why?
September 10, 2012 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm having wireless internet connectivity issues that even tech support seems unable to resolve.

I live in an in-law apartment and share an internet connection with the person I rent from. Her wireless network appears throughout my apartment with 2-4 bars. However, whenever I try to connect, it tells me that I have entered an invalid password.
This only happens in my apartment. If I walk upstairs, there is no problem- I connect fine. Currently the only way for me to get internet in my own apartment is to stand on top of the toilet, hold my laptop against the ceiling in the corner closest to where she keeps the wireless antenna, and then browse sitting near there.
My first idea was to buy a wireless extension, but I don't see why I should have to- I get the signal- it just doesn't work unless I'm close to it! What's going on?

(I have a MacBook running OSX 10.6.8)
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
I always like to try to test such problems on a second computer to help narrow down whether the problem is with the specific computer or with an external factor (in this case such as the router, etc.).
posted by Dansaman at 3:06 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's the name of her wireless network? Is it something common like NETGEAR or LINKSYS or HOME?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:07 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

The number of bars you see represents the strength of the signal you're receiving from your landlord's access point. However, wireless access is a two-way street: for Internet access, you can't just receive signal from your landlord's AP, you also need to transmit data back to it. Your Macbook can't give you an estimation of how strong the signal is from your laptop back to the access point.

It's entirely possible that your landlord's AP has multiple antennas or higher-gain antennas than your MacBook - meaning that while you can receive transmissions from the landlord's AP at an acceptable signal strength, it can't receive transmissions from you. Hence the password problems.

(FAMOUS MONSTER's assertion is also a good one: that you're picking up a neighbor's access point with the same network name and not your landlord's access point.)
posted by eschatfische at 3:11 PM on September 10, 2012

I've definitely got the correct network- it sounds like the problem is what you describe, eschatfische- so the question becomes, what now? Do I go ahead and buy an airport express? Will that also increase the range at which I can transmit info to the base station?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 3:31 PM on September 10, 2012

It is possible that you have some communication issue on that computer. Errors sending the password to the router possibly from noise in the wireless? I'd test a different device and see if it can connect. That narrows down if its the laptop or the router. If any one has a USB wireless dongle you can borrow, try using that and disabling the on board wireless.
posted by Twain Device at 3:48 PM on September 10, 2012

Keep in mind that an Airport Express can only wirelessly extend a signal from another Apple router. If there's a wired connection available to the router, you can use that with an Airport Express.
posted by The Lamplighter at 4:01 PM on September 10, 2012

You've got a few options, most of which involve getting your landlord involved.

1) If the landlord's base station is an Apple Airport Extreme or Express, you can buy another Apple Airport Express and set up a WDS network between the one upstairs and yours. I've done this a few times at clients and have had mixed results. WDS tends to be flaky if the signal from the "Main" base station isn't strong enough to have the "Remote" (your Express) base station in range.

2) A better option is to install PowerLine-type equipment that will create a wired network between two power outlets. I've had excellent success with setting up PowerLine equipment at my clients. Your electric will need to be on the same panel as your landlords for this to work, which it sounds like is the case for you. I like the TrendNet and ZyXEL equipment. I know it sounds like magic, but it works. You'd simply plug another wireless access point into the PowerLine adapter in your apartment and configure it to be an extension of the router upstairs.

3) If neither of these solutions work for you, I've also used these Quickertek booster antennas with good success. You can after-market modify a base station or buy one that's pre-modifed.

Option 2 is the most bulletproof, but we need more specific information about your setup: what kind of wireless router is upstairs? Does it already have any kind of booster antennas on it? Would your landlord be willing to make changes to the existing router and/or wireless network?
posted by mrbarrett.com at 4:03 PM on September 10, 2012

Well, there's a very simple potential solution, and that's if your landlady has a cable jack or phone outlet nearer to your in-law than the current location, and if she could move her modem/access point there. Of course, that may open up coverage issues elsewhere in the house for her.

If the access point can't be moved, powerline networking gear like mrbarrett.com mentioned may well be the right answer here. I'm in SF as well, and even though we live in a small attached home, our 20s plaster walls pretty much keep the wireless signal from covering the entire house from a single access point. I use powerline gear and a second access point connected to the powerline gear to make things usable throughout the house.

There are a few caveats, though. You have to plug the gear on both ends directly into a wall outlet (not a power strip or surge protector), and both ends of the gear really need to be plugged into the same circuit. While on the same circuit powerline networking really does seem like magic, if your in-law is on a separate power circuit, it may not work (or may not work well).

I'm a little skeptical a wireless extender would work well. Given that you have to place your laptop in a special location (in the bathroom!) to get an acceptable wireless connection with your laptop, you may find things are worse with a wireless extender: you may have to put that wireless extender *in that same place you need to hold your laptop* in order to have functional wireless. In short, it would need to be in a location where the extender has a strong two-way signal to the base station *and* has a strong two-way signal with the laptop or other client device where you wish to use it. I can't imagine an Airport Express taped up near a water source would be safe or an appealing solution.

You may also want to look into whether running a physical Ethernet cable from her access point to your in-law is possible. You can use outdoor Ethernet cable if you can't do it easily inside the house. Of course, your landlord would need to approve any physical modifications to the house for this to happen.
posted by eschatfische at 4:42 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The bar reading is borderline meaningless. This is obviously a reception issue. I find the beacon packets that say "hi im a wireless network" always are stronger than regular reception once connected. You can download inssider to see the db numbers for more information.

You're getting invalid password because the reception is so terrible that it doesn't know if those malformed packets are because the encryption is wrong or if the reception is bad. Considering getting closer to her device solves it, then you'll need to figure out a better solution for internet. You could ask her to place the device on the floor in a central location or run a cat5 cable from her unit to yours. If on the off chance you're both on the same electrical cicruit you can buy ethernet over powerline but the decent ones start at $100. Even then at a non-trivial distance you may not get better than 10mbps, but that beats nothing I guess. Dont bother with extenders. I have yet to see a wireless extender actually work and not cause a million other issues.

If you have a computer store nearby you might luck out with a wifi adapter with a directional antenna. These little guys were popular a few years ago.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:23 PM on September 10, 2012

In my experience, if you're getting 2 to 4 bars of signal, you ought to be able to connect. I second trying a different laptop in your apartment, just to figure out whether your laptop is part of the problem.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2012

This one is tons cheaper btw. Reviews look good.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:26 PM on September 10, 2012

Oh, in case this isn't obvious, point the black part of that device up towards your landlord's AP.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:28 PM on September 10, 2012

You're on the right network name, but are you sure you are talking to the same access point? Maybe there is a perfectly fine access point covering your apartment that has the wrong password configured in it.

I wouldn't be so quick to determine that it is an obvious signal strength issue.
posted by gjc at 5:05 AM on September 11, 2012

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