Networking

Troubleshooting tips for wireless connectivity issues

Troubleshooting wireless connectivity issues is a common problem, and often a very pesky one when supporting remote users. Jack Wallen takes you through his approach for getting to the root of the issue as quickly as possible.

Wireless connectivity is quickly becoming a must-have for companies across the globe. And end users must be able to make these wireless connections quickly and easily. But when a problem arises, the troubleshooting of the connection (especially when it's done remotely) can be a real challenge. Where do you start? How do you help remote users who have no idea what the Control Panel is or where to find it? This task can drive even the most patient administrator or support specialist crazy.

So, what is the best method of troubleshooting wireless connections? Using Occam's Razor as a springboard, you will most likely head off your problem before it gets the best of you. Let's take a look at the method I have successfully used to troubleshoot a wireless connectivity issue. You will be surprised how well this technique will help.

Start with the obvious

The first thing I always ask of the client is if anyone else has connectivity to the wireless access device at their location. If anyone else can make the connection, then you know the issue is isolated with either the user or the users' machine. You can now forget about the router being the issue.

Once you have ruled out the router, the next question you should ask the end user is if they were previously able to connect to that wireless router. If so, then your next step is to figure out why the connection has been lost. If they haven't ever connected to that router then your task is simple - walk them through the process of making the initial connection.

Okay, so they once had a connection and now they do not. What is the first thing you should do? If you said look into the connection properties, you are wrong. The first thing you should ALWAYS do is make sure wireless is actually turned on. On most laptops there is either a slider or a button that turns wireless on or off. This feature is there to preserve much-needed battery life. The problem is, most users have no idea it's there and inadvertently turn wireless off. When this happens, guess what? No wireless connection. I would say nearly half of the time this is the problem. Turn wireless on and, voila!, instant connection.

On to the less-than-obvious

I would say the next most popular reason a wireless device can not connect is a forgotten (or changed) password. This hurdle can often be a big problem, but it's not insurmountable. Worst case scenario (when no one can remember the wireless password) is to reset the password by logging into the router and making the change. This plan of attack can be blocked if no one knows the admin password to the router. If that is the case, your attack now has a secondary layer which is to "paperclip" the router and reset it to factory settings. Make sure, before you do this, that you can locate the default credentials for logging into the router. You will also want to make sure you know the details of the wireless information so the end users aren't confused. Give the router the same SSID it had and make sure if there were any special configurations applied to the router that you apply the same options.

Once you have reset the router to factory settings, log in, and set it up.

But what happens when the user knows the password but still can't connect? The first thing you should do is double-check the password. The user could be wrong. If they aren't, then the task has become a bit more challenging....but not impossible.

If it's a Windows machine, the first thing you can try is to restart the WZC service (Wireless Zero Cfg). To do this click Start | Run and then type services.msc. When the services window opens, scroll down until you see WZC. Right-click the WZC entry and select restart. Once the service has restarted, check to see if the connection comes up.

If none of the above has worked, the next step I take is to check to see if the machine is using a third party connection manager. These tools are, at best, spotty. I do not trust them. Of course if they are the only way your machine can connect you will have to leave it installed and try to make it work. If, however, the built-in connection manager can detect and use the wireless device, your best bet is to ditch that third-party manager and use the built-in tool. The built-in tool may not have all of the bells and whistles and pretty user interface, but it will, hands down, blow away that third-party tool in terms of reliability.

But what if you've tried the third-party tool and the built-in tool and neither work? You still do not get a connection. It's not impossible to think that the wireless card (or chipset) on the machine has gone bad. If I suspect this, I will do two things:

1. Test the suspected connection with a wireless device KNOWN to work. Thankfully most smart phones are Wi-Fi enabled, so you can do the test with your mobile. If the connection works with a known device then the hardware COULD be suspect.

2. The next step would be to take the hardware to a known working wireless network and see if you can get the machine to connect. If you are still unable to get the wireless device to work, your next step involves attaching a known working (probably external) wireless device. This can be in the form of a USB wireless adapter. If this works, then you know the internal wireless device is not functioning. If this is the case - your user has a few choices:

  • Replace the laptop.
  • Have the wireless chipset replaced.
  • Use an external wireless adapter.

Obviously the last option is going to be more appealing to most users. But at least you have options to get them back up and running.

Final thoughts

Troubleshooting wireless connectivity doesn't have to be a horrible nightmare. If you follow the above outline, going from most to least simple, you will more than likely find the issue at hand. Hopefully that issue will not result in the user having to replace hardware.

Do you have a better outline for solving wireless connectivity issues? If so, what is your plan of attack? Share with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
sysabod
sysabod

agree on the 'starting from the obvious' part,most cases we met result from all those 'simple' reasons.

rdevereux
rdevereux

Nice idea but sadly I suspect the issue that most of us have is random wireless connectivity produced by unknown factors affecting the signal. these things are much less easy to troubleshoot and much less easy to fix and there aren't fantastic tools to remedy them

danpluso
danpluso

Before getting them to run around and try a new wireless device (PCI NIC or external USB NIC) why not first get them to try "Ping 127.0.0.1" in the command prompt. 127.0.0.1 is the loopback address and should be able to pass ping without being connected to a wireless access point. If the NIC fails to ping 127.0.0.1 (itself) then that should tell you that the NIC is at fault. Try getting them to reinstalling the NIC drivers before suggesting their NIC is no longer working.

pdeering
pdeering

Uninstall the wireless adapter in Device Manager, then click on the Action menu and select the Scan for hardware changes option, this will reload the drvers for your internal wireless card. This has worked for me several times and is an easy process to walk a user through.

matthew.moeller
matthew.moeller

I have two users that could connect with their Blackberry Curve, one upgraded to a Blackberry Curve 9300 3G, the other, to a new BBerry Torch and now neither can connect. I've tried to manually set up their connection to no avail, any suggestions? I have a MAC filter but added their MACs, am I missing something?

crobertson.ca
crobertson.ca

I recently ran accross an issue with Netgear routers and Acer netbooks which was caused by a firmware incompatability in the wpa/wpa2 encription. Other laptops and wireless devices connected without problem. The acer netbook wireless worked fine with other routers or on the Netgear with no encription or with WEP. Upgrading router firmware did not help. The fix was finding and upgrading the laptop wireless firmware from the card manufacturer. Acer did not have it. Netgear support did find it for me. I was quite impressed.

rainmaker_68
rainmaker_68

Working as a Technical Support Engineer for ASUS.. I have found out a critical question to ask customers before troubleshooting is '' do you have a wireless router in home or are you connecting to the neighbors router'' this is a 60% probability which tuns out most times to be positive.

m.sullivan
m.sullivan

You are incorrect in excluding the router so fast. Just becasue one laptop can connect and another cannot does not exclude the router. I just helped a user who had this issue and it was becasue an IT friend setup the MAC addresses in the router. Adding a new laptop without the MAC address did not let it connect. I had another user that could not connect a laptop because the DHCP range was only setup for 5 connections.

arunmahender
arunmahender

let me try later this week..once i go on live calls.. many thanks..

Barry Latham
Barry Latham

I have seen some other issues, such as bad profiles or so many profiles that the device becomes confused or bogged down. I delete them all and start fresh. Malware can cause connection issues. Sometime malware will set proxies and appears there is no connection. Also, in our case we have 60 laptops in the same area trying to auto connect to the router or multiple routers. Sometimes, the routers need to be isolated from each other. Change channels and SSID names. One thing i found is that with so many in proximity and connecting to the same source, some units will be booted off due to router load. It appears not many routers handle over 30 devices well. I enjoy reading the posts and comments. Keep them coming.

jayja1
jayja1

But what if it is the router?

Netweezurd
Netweezurd

Hey, Day in day out I tshoot connection all day long. I work for DataValet : WiFi in hotels, hospitals and what not. It's over the phone and just getting a "Code 18"... uhmmm... a User to type CMD in the run bar is troublesome... typing "services.msc" and finding WZC in the lot... I'm going to be liable for hart attacks. Does just disabling and re-enabling the Wireless Connection do that ?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"If this works, then you know the internal wireless device is not functioning." And if it doesn't? Windows networking can be very hard to troubleshoot. I had a cable connectivity problem (I wager a LAN issue should be, if anything, easier to handle than a WLAN issue) where the "solution" (after going through the manual and book of ineffable wisdom both backwards and forwards) turned out to be to connect the modem to a different machine, copy the network addresses provided by the modem to that machine to paper and then insert them manually into the non-connecting computer. Presto, problem gone, no trace, never returned. A solution as baffling as the problem.

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

You should include power cycling the pc/laptop and the AP.

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