Wi-Fi and cell service drop out intermittently at our apartment. Why?
February 26, 2013 11:21 AM   Subscribe

First, let me state that I have no idea if these two things are interrelated, but it seems like they could be, so I'm going to go ahead and conjecture here: our AT&T cell phone service drops from nearly full 3G to one bar from time to time (usually during calls, of course) and our wi-fi does the same thing. I've tried timing it and I can't seem to nail it down to anything. Could these service drops be related?

Some details:

Both of us are using MacBook pros and iPhone 4s. Our modem/router/wireless access point is a Motorola Surfboard that is probably about 5 years old now. We previously lived in a different apartment in Chicago and I don't think we had the same wi-fi problem there, but I suppose we could be wrong.

Any ways that I can test connectivity in some way that would be beneficial to fixing the problem? Is it possible that there's some sort of signal interference that is causing both signals to drop? I'm not sure if it happens simultaneously, but that'll be the next thing I check (waiting for the wi-fi to drop and then checking the phone connectivity meter).

The building is in Jamaica Plain, Boston, not far from a previous apartment where we had little to no problem with cell connection. The building is brick and there is a hill behind it, to the west. We are on the second floor of the building.

Not sure where to start on this one, and I'm happy to provide any more information for folks with good ideas. Thanks!
posted by summerteeth to Technology (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get a scanner like netstumbler (I don't know the mac apps to use) to check what wifi channels are overloaded in your apartment's area and set your router a channel that has fewer local routers broadcasting on it. If they are all being used look for the channels that have the weakest signal strength. That may help with your wifi.

Mobile phone's are another issue entirely
posted by srboisvert at 11:43 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The only way they could be related is if there was some sort of intermitten wide-band interference, and I can't really think of any way that could happen.

Regarding your Wifi problems, try InSSIDer.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:52 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Both of you had good advice, and I ended up getting InSSIDer for the mac. Seems like there are far fewer routers on Channel 11, so I switched it to that to see if it helps. Hopefully it does, in terms of my wi-fi dropping out. AT&T service, on the other hand, is anyone's guess.

The AT&T thing is super frustrating because the call always drops just enough that the caller can't hear me though I can hear them just fine. With friends and family this isn't a big deal, but it sucks when I'm 30 minutes into a call with a business and they think that I suddenly hung up, hanging up in response. Usually if they wait 10-15 seconds, it works again.
posted by summerteeth at 12:21 PM on February 26, 2013

You might also consider beefing up your WiFi router. If it can handle a different antenna, throw an omnidirectional one on there to boost the signal. I found a few Alfa 9 dBi omnidirectionals on Amazon for under $10. As for your phone, uh... not sure. Check with AT&T, they have an iOS app for reporting connectivity problems. If there is an issue with the tower or other interference they ought to be informed.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:26 PM on February 26, 2013

Usually if they wait 10-15 seconds, it works again.

I don't think your phone problem is caused by radio interference. My guess would be that your phone is faulty.

If the network can't received packets from the phone, it will drop the call entirely (usually in a fraction of a second). It doesn't keep it up, the way you describe. If, on the other hand, the microphone on your phone is going out, then the phone would transmit "silence" packets and that would satisfy the network, which would keep the call up.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2013

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