Wi-Fi Woes? Four Hot Tips to Get Back Up and Running

By Eric Geier

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Setting up a wireless router can be as easy as plugging it in. No configuration is actually required. You can just connect your computers and start browsing. But this leaves your signal open for others to connect and eavesdrop on your communications.

You should follow the install and setup instructions provided with your Wi-Fi router to properly configure it. But what if you run into problems? Well, here we'll discuss several common issues and see how to overcome them. Great if you're planning to install a new router, or if you're already in the process.

1. Issues with the setup CD

Some wireless routers include a CD that helps you configure the router settings with a wizard, rather than accessing the router's control panel with the Web browser. However if Windows isn't up to date, you might not be able to run the CD. Most likely this is due to not having the Service Packs for Windows installed.

You can install the Service Packs via the Control Panel in Windows, or via the Windows Update site for Windows XP. You can also manually download them: Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) for 32-bit or 64-bit, and Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) for 32-bit or 64-bit.

2. Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) not working

If your router supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), the instructions may tell you that you can connect computers using the WPS buttons. But remember, both the wireless router and wireless adapter must support WPS. You push the router's WPS button and then push or click on the button on the wireless adapter or computer.

USB wireless adapters may have an actual physical button, but other form factors may only offer a virtual button on the software. Also keep in mind Windows 7 includes native support of WPS. You just have to attempt to connect to the wireless network and it should tell you that you can push the button on the router to connect.

To connect other computers or wireless adapters that don't support WPS, you must manually enter the security password when connecting to the router. If you've used WPS for all the other computers, you may not even know what the security password is. To check you must access the router's control panel by typing its IP address into the Web browser, and then find the wireless settings.

3. Incompatibility between wireless and security standards

If your computer or its wireless adapter is more than a few years old (2005 or older), you may run into problems with compatibility. The newer 802.11g and 802.11n standards are supposed to be backward compatible with the older 802.11b standard, but there are still some issues.

There have also been improvements in the wireless security standards that may confuse things when using older computers or wireless adapters. The first security standard (now insecure) was Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), and then Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) with TKIP encryption, and the latest Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) with AES encryption.

Here are the main compatibility issues you might run into and how to overcome them:

4. Not getting 802.11n speeds

If you have an 802.11n router and wireless adapter, you should see data rates (the connection speed) over 54 Mbps, unless you are too far away from the router. If you don't see data rates exceed 54 Mbps even when you're with reasonable range, you're probably using either WEP or WPA security. These security standards aren't compatible with 802.11n. If you use them with 802.11n, you're limited to the 802.11g data rates of up to 54 Mbps.

To take advantage of 802.11n, you must use WPA2 security with AES encryption, or disable security altogether, but of course that is not recommended for private networks.

Even after enabling WPA2 you won't see the maximum 802.11n speeds until you change the channel-width. All wireless vendors set the default channel-width to 20 MHz, which is the width used by 802.11b/g. To get the maximum data rates you must be using 40 MHz wide channels by setting the router to 40 MHz or Auto 20/40 MHz.

Keep in mind, using 40 MHz wide channels can actually negatively impact the connection performance of your computers that are farther away from the router. Plus it can impact other nearby wireless networks. Depending upon the channel you use, your transmissions may occupy the entire band, all the 11 available channels. This is the case if you use channel 6. When using 20 MHz wide channels, the only non-overlapping channels are 1, 6, and 11. When using 40 MHz wide channels, you should stick with channel 1 or 11 to leave room for your neighbors.

To change the security method or channel width, you must access the router's control panel by typing its IP address into the Web browser. Then find the wireless settings. Don't forget to save or apply the changes when you're done.

Still not working?

We discussed some common issues you might experience while setting up a wireless router. But if we didn't touch on your issue or you can't seem to fix it, you may want to give tech support a call. You should find a support number in the documentation. If you have access to the Internet, you might also want to do some Google-ing or check out the support section on the vendor's website.