Low signal strength on home wife network
April 7, 2006 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Could use some help troubleshooting a signal strength problem on my wireless network

I'm running XP and using Wireless Zero Configuration to manage my wifi connection. When I hover over the little computer icon in my system tray, the signal strength for my network is listed as very good (sometimes excellent). And when I right click the icon and view status, the signal strenth is four out of five bars. However, when I then choose "View Available Wireless Networks", the connection to my network has only one bar out of five and the strength is listed as "very low". I can also see my neighbors network listed there and the strength of his higher than mine. As my computer occasionally disconnects from my network and connects to my neighbor's by itself I guess I can assume that there is a strength problem with my network.

I have two questions. Why is there a discrepancy between my system tray/status strength indicators and the one listed in the View Available Networks? Shouldn't they be the same? And what could be causing the signal strength problem to my network? This problem seems to be recent and I haven't made any changes to the location of the route or my PC.
posted by gfrobe to Technology (5 answers total)
My guess would be that your network is using the same frequency as some other in the area, and the two are interfering with one another.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:08 PM on April 7, 2006

Do you have Service Pack 2 installed ?

The wifi connection on my gf's laptop was extremely flaky until I had her install SP2. I have read a lot of complaints on the web that suggest that Wireless Zero config was the culprit. Although her laptop was always in the same part of our apartment, the reported signal strength would vary wildly and the connection would frequently drop out. Wireless Zero config would sometimes opt to connect to our neighbour's router, even when it was reporting that the signal strength from that router was much lower than that from our router. These issues have almost totally disappeared since she installed SP2.

If you opt to install SP2, keep in mind that you are making major changes to your OS - all the usual warnings about backups etc. apply.
posted by cobrien at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2006

Seems like interference is one possibility. The comments above about switching to SP2 are good ones; SP2 is really a lot better. The biggest change is that it turns on the firewall by default. You may have tio fool with it some.

Some general info: there are only three channels you should actually use in wireless networking; 1, 6, and 11. Why? Because there is crosstalk, and it takes a 5-channel separation to get a completely clear signal. If your neighbor's wireless is on, say, 2, then you'd want to go to at least 7. (11 would be better, since that's 'standard'.)

Your neighbor may have a strong wireless signal, but if you're at least 5 channels away, it shouldn't matter to you. Just mark his network as 'no join', and you should be fine.

You could also be having trouble from cordless phones; I had an early 2.4Ghz phone that completely blew up my wireless net every time it rang. Ended up switching to 5.8Ghz.

I realize that's general rather than specific information, but I hope it helps.
posted by Malor at 3:16 PM on April 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I do have SP2. My phones are also 2.4ghz but they are the same phones I've always had so don't think that's the problem. As for my neighbor's network, I'm not so much concerned about connecting to it but rather why his signal is so much stronger than mine in my house. Could his signal interfere with mine to the point that it weakens my signal?
posted by gfrobe at 3:27 PM on April 7, 2006


Wireless internet is a shared medium. Only one person can talk on a channel at a time, and like Malor says above, if the channels you and your neighbor are close enough, the stronger signal could be winning out. Some fancier APs can crank the power up more than a SOHO one, and run over your signal.

There are also some other answers. Placement of access points is also important. Things like walls, and especially metal can cause great amounts of interference. If you put your AP in a metal cage, it will limit the signal. You didn't mention anything like that though.
posted by zabuni at 4:44 PM on April 7, 2006

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