WiFi, Bye-Bye

Good morning Fred, Have been a "plus" subscriber for a few years now.  Look forward each edition. Don’t recall seeing this mentioned in the Langalist ……… I have all from 1997 on.

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Been having an issue with my Wi-Fi at home.  Every once in a while, my laptop (and my wife’s) lose their remote connection to the home network. Then the next day everything seems to be OK.  I have a Linksys 54g with speed boost and a Hawking signal booster, so the wife and I get max signals wherever we are in the house.  I have WEP turned on and have set MAC addressing to only allow the 2 laptops and my desktop access to this network.  So I don’t think the problem is external.  I have verified all IP and address settings.  Everything reflects their initial setup.  I even changed the wireless channel multiple times, thinking it may be outside interference.

Could my wireless router be failing?  My desktop is hardwired and has had no problems accessing the internet, my print server, or my NAS.

It is especially annoying when the signal disappears while in my lazyboy, sipping a cold one and tracking my fantasy football team. :)

Am at a loss.  Any input? Thanks, and keep up the work ! —Dan Gill

Yes, it’s possible for external interference to mess things up. A very powerful signal, or a less-powerful one that’s nearby, can simply overwhelm a weaker one, even if they’re not on the same frequency. (You’ve probably experienced a related form of this in your car when you drive by the transmitter for a radio or TV station: The nearby transmitter may temporarily overwhelm the signals from any other station you’re tuned to, even though the stations are on different frequencies.) Even weak external signals can be a problem if they’re a "harmonic" (multiple or divisor) of the in-use frequency.

Trouble is, transient interference can be very hard to find. You might look to see if portable phones or two-way radios, microwave ovens, garage door openers, etc., are in use when the dropouts happen. I even once had a wireless home weather station that would occasionally and erratically interfere with WiFi use!

Separately, the speed-boosting and range-extending variants of WiFi are often not entirely standard, and can be more fragile than slower-speed, normal-range connections. One way to test for this would be to drop back to standard 11Mbps WiFi for a couple nights, and see if the problem still happens. If it doesn’t, then it’s the speed-boosting or range-extending elements that are causing the problem.

You’d also want to see if the dropouts happen on all your wireless laptops at the same time (suggesting a centralized problem) or whether the laptops drop off individually (suggesting a problem at the laptop, or with the signal path to the laptop).

If you want to get *really* serious about seeing what’s going on, you might consider getting a handheld, stand-alone WiFi "sniffer" that can tell you signal strength and network availability as you prowl your spaces. You can also keep it near the laptop to see if the network link is really going away, or if it’s just that the laptop thinks so. There are a number of WiFi detectors available ( http://www.google.com/search?q=wifi+detector) ; the one I know about in particular is from CyberGuys (full disclosure: they’re a LangaList advertiser). You can use this link if you wish http://tinyurl.com/9pb4d to show your visit as coming from this newsletter, or go to cyberguys.com on your own, and search for item "120 5612."

Finally, if most of your laptop use is in one spot, you might consider connecting via your home wiring instead of WiFi. Although it’s limited to standard WiFi-like speeds (around 11Mbps) it’s more reliable and less hackable than WiFi: It’s what I use most of the time when I’m laptopping at home. See "Powerline Networking Comes Of Age" http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20030108S0003 .

Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.