My Internet Connection Hates Me
February 19, 2015 7:46 AM   Subscribe

So this is a weird one - on occasion, my own computer loses connection to my WiFi signal - whereas my roommate, who sometimes is logged on to the same network via the same signal and sometimes IN THE SAME ROOM - does NOT. Please suggest where I should look to start diagnosing the problem.

The details:

I have an iPad mini, purchased a year and change ago. I also have an HP laptop running Windows 8, less than a year ago. My roommate has an iPad.

Last night, I was logged on just fine via my HP, and so was my roommate. But I lost the signal. I pulled out my iPad mini - it didn't have the signal either. I turned off both machines and turned them back on again. The iPad didn't detect the signal, the HP saw the signal but said the internet connection was low. Then the signal flipped off and on again on both. I turned both machines off and on again, and had the same intermittent, spotty signal for the next 15 minutes or so.

But the hell of it is, the whole time this was going on, my roommate had a very clear signal, and was using it to Skype his nephew. And I confirmed he was connected to the house wifi, the same signal I was trying to connect to. Once my roommate ended his Skype, I finally unplugged and replugged the router, and I was able to connect to the signal again on both machines.

I wouldn't think anything of this except for the fact that I was having trouble, and my roommate - who was also using a Mac and was sitting ten feet away from me - was not. Clearly my machines are the only ones with the problem.

How in the HELL do I start to diagnose this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What happens when you log into the router? When I was annoyed at my sister I would set up the mac address for her computer to restrict certain sites or times of day or give her low priority while giving my own computer high priority. Replugging the router doesn't change these settings, you'd need to reset it, but you might as well log in and make sure there's nothing weird or suspicious there.
posted by jeather at 8:01 AM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: I'll have to look up how I log into a router to be able to ascertain that. But I doubt any router issue would be anything but an accidental problem (my roommate's about the same level of technically-inexpert as I am).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:12 AM on February 19, 2015

My guess would be that your roommate's skypeing was using all the signal, and there wasn't enough left for your devices. Sometimes I have to disconnect my phone and iPad connection from my wifi in order for my streaming tv to work.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:15 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it possible that you have a low-bandwidth-ish connection and your roommate using skype basically takes up all the bandwidth so you were connected but not able to do anything on the connection you had?

As far as diagnosing, you'll need to isolate issues.

- Has this happened before? Is there something that connects all the times that it's happening like roommate doing high bandwidth stuff or roommate using a particular computer?
- You're certain that the spotty connection you were getting was connecting to your house wifi and not some crappy open link elsewhere, correct?
- Can you check to see what IP addresses the router is assigning you? It's possible there's some sort of weird collision happening where there was a one-time lost signal but then the ipad and the desktop machine had colliding IP addresses assigned.
- Do you have the option of plugging your desktop computer directly in to the router and seeing if it might be a wifi problem and not some other problem?
- It it possible your coommate is doing something bandidth intensive that is not the obvious Skyping like downloading big files, streaming music, other stuff?

Your ISP should be able to tell you how to log in to the router if that's a thing they allow you to do but it's super unlikely that your roommate messed with anything. If it does keep happening you can call the ISP and have them talk you through some possible troubleshooting techniques.
posted by jessamyn at 8:16 AM on February 19, 2015

Or maybe your roommate is (intentionally or accidentally) connecting to a different Wi-Fi access point, like a neighbor's?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: Huh, that sounds likely. It's not a frequent thing - like maybe once every other week or so - and I've always just chalked it up to my router itself being a little old (and it always bounces back after I unplug and replug). And my roommate does stream music a lot, as well as watch streaming TV and do a lot of skype/video chats, but I haven't noticed before whether these things happen at the same time as my own signal goes wonky.

On the other hand, sometimes it's gone on the fritz when I'm the only one home. But at least I can start keeping a log of WHEN this happens, and see if there's a connection.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: Whoops, on preview to answer Rock Steady (and anyone else): it's definitely the house signal. All the other available signals you can reach from my apartment are secured, and we don't know any of their passwords.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on February 19, 2015

You might also want to be aware of where you are WRT your access point when you lose signal. "just 10 feet apart" can make a huge difference if one of you is in the "shadow" of something like a water heater and the other has clear line of sight between antennas.

Here's a link to other things that can screw up your wifi. Devices operating on different bands/channels and standards (a/b/g/n) can behave quite differently in noisy environments even when right next to each other.
posted by achrise at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fwiw, my old router used to prioritize MacBooks over every other type of device. You're streaming a movie? Oh let me shut that down so someone on an Apple product can check their email! It drove us nuts.

My tplink router doesn't do this, all devices are equally slow if we're using too much data. Or devices already connected are prioritized. I swear it's a conspiracy.
posted by fshgrl at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2015

I see achrise's link mentions this possibility: was your microwave going and are you closer to it? Or maybe a neighbor's microwave just on the other side of the wall closer to you? I had an officemate with a WiFi rather than ethernet connection and he was just on the other side of the wall from the office kitchen, and every time the microwave was going, his signal strength would dip or drop entirely. It wouldn't happen to anyone else, so the effect was really localized.
posted by yasaman at 4:59 PM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: Okay: I'm going to examine the router itself first. So - when I log on to the router, exactly what should I be looking for and how do I tell whether there is a problem?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 AM on February 20, 2015

This completely depends on what make/model of router you have.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 AM on February 20, 2015

Response by poster: I haven't had a chance to check out the router yet, but - just now, my roommate started a FaceTime session, and the second he started my laptop connection crapped out. I suspect it may indeed be his FaceTime hogging the bandwidth. Fortunately I can still connect via iPad and I may just live with that being the state of things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 PM on March 3, 2015

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