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

By Eric Geier

May 17, 2011

Wireless networks can be tricky to manage. With these four tips, you can troubleshoot flaky connections, slow speeds and misbehaving gear.

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.

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