If your Wi-Fi signals keep dropping, or you can’t connect a specific device to your network, this post is for you. I’ll explain how things work and walk you through a few tricks that will likely make things better.
“Likely” because there’s a chance it’s not possible to remedy the problem at your particular place. That’s just the nature of the wireless connection.
But at least, you’ll know you’ve done all you could to improve your Wi-Fi situation. Before continuing, though, make sure you’ve already set your router up correctly.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on March 29, 2020, and updated it on November 21, 2020, to include additional relevant and practical tips.
Wi-Fi signals: A brief perspective
Signal distortion and disconnection are part of radio transmission’s nature. As the radio waves travel through the air, they run into so many things that can alter their integrity.
But starting with the age of cellular Internet and Wi-Fi, signal dropping has become more and more of an issue.
If you want to imagine how wireless transmissions take place, drop a pebble in a still pond, and watch the ripples moving outwards. That’s your Wi-Fi signal.
Now, throw in another rock at a different spot. That’s your neighbor’s Wi-Fi signal. Toss a shoe in! That’s your microwave. See what happens when the ripples collide? That’s signal distortion.
What you might not have seen is the fact the pond was never entirely serene in the first place. And there were other things, like wind, insects, fish, the liquid’s viscosity, etc., that already affected the ripples created by the original pebble.
The point is, at any given time, there are more things that don’t help your Wi-Fi work as intended than those that do. And the fact it ends up working at all — delivering hundreds of megabits of data per second 24/7 — is already quite amazing.
But it’s human nature to take things for granted. As Wi-Fi improves over the years, we’ve come to expect more out of it. But like all things tech, there’s also more to Wi-Fi than what we can see. And we can’t even see it, to begin with.
That’s to take unrealistic expectations out of the way. Your Wi-Fi is never as fast as the vendor claims, partly because no home is ideal for it in the first place.
Wi-Fi disconnection and failure to connect: The cause
To have good Wi-Fi, you first and foremost need the right hardware. So get a router (or mesh system) that’s suitable for your place and set it up properly. Hint: When possible, use network cables to link the pieces of your network together.
Considering you’re on this website, though, I’d assume that you already got one of the best routers, which leaves us with three other common reasons that cause your Wi-Fi signal to drop or impossible (for some devices) to connect to:
- Incompatibility: The broadcaster (router) and the client, like your laptop, don’t work well together due to incompatible hardware or software driver.
- Signal saturation or interferences: There are too many broadcasters of different types in the vicinity, causing the air space to be too crowded.
- Other factors: Things you have no control over. These include radar activities or a jammer near your home. Or the fact your home is made of materials that block radio waves.
Now that we have identified the issues let’s find out how to fix them.
How to fix Wi-Fi dropping and connection issues
We can only fix what we have control over. Specifically, we can make changes to our hardware to deal with signal saturation and incompatibility.
Pick the best channel for your Wi-Fi
To avoid signal saturation and the interferences it brings, you need to pick the channels that are most available in the airspace. The easiest way, also the default in most routers, is to use the “Auto” setting.
This setting means the router itself will pick the best channel based on the real-world condition. And most of the time, that works. However, the router can only detect the signal at its location, not throughout the entire home.
As a result, all might be fine when you’re near the router, but as you move farther out, though not too far, your device may start disconnecting intermittently. That’s more often the case when you use a mesh system — you have multiple broadcasters at different places around your home.
To overcome the situation, you need to manually pick a channel that’s used the least, on average, throughout your area of desired Wi-Fi coverage. So get a Wi-Fi analyzer app to site-survey the airspace as you walk around.
My favorite is the Wi-Fi Analyzer app (a free version will do), but you can also use any others. You’ll note that a channel might completely free at one spot, wholly used at another, and lightly use at another. Pick the one that’s used the least on average. Do that for all the bands involved.
By the way, to understand the Wi-Fi signal strength and usage, you need to know the value of dBm. I explained dBm in detail in this post, but the gist is you’re dealing with a negative number, so the lower the value, the better the signal is.
Once you have figured out the channels, open the router’s web interface (or mobile app) and enter them for each of its band. Apply the changes, and your Wi-Fi network should now have better reliability.
Note, however, that its throughput speed might not improve. That’s because sometimes, the best performing channels are not readily available in your space. Also, your airspace is not static — the settings that work well today might not be tomorrow.
Improve compatibility on the router side
Apart from using the best channels, you can also do other things on the router side to improve Wi-Fi reliability for all clients. Most routers come with compatibility default settings out of the box. But it would help if you double-checked on those.
Incompatibility tends to happen when you get a new hardware piece, especially a router. That’s because new routers, those supporting Wi-Fi 6 in particular, tend to have the latest technology built-in that’s not necessarily friendly toward older legacy Wi-Fi devices.
Here are the general steps on how to configure your router for best compatibility.
1. Take care of the basics
Make sure your router is running the latest firmware. And then back up its settings before continuing. This way, you can always revert in case something you mess up. It happens.
You can do both those via the router’s web interface. A router’s firmware update and setting backup functions tend to be at the same area within the Administration or System part of its interface.
2. Change the Wi-Fi settings to favor compatibility.
Generally, that is in the Wi-Fi or Wireless section of the interface. There are many settings, but you only need to focus on the following:
Note: Any of the following items alone might be enough to fix the problem. Try them out one at a time.
- Wireless Mode: Choose to use Mixed or Auto. If you choose a specific standard like 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5), or 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), then clients of different standards won’t be supported.
- Channel bandwidth: Choose the value that allows for all available bandwidths, including 20MHz, 40MHz, 80MHz, and 160MHz. If you pick just one value, the higher the number you select here, the fewer clients are supported. More on the 160MHz and DFS channel below.
- Security level: The level that’s balanced between security and compatibility, for now, is WPA2. If you use WPA3, only clients with the latest driver will work — more on this below. But if you pick WPA or lower level, your network is susceptible to being hacked. However, if you have ancient 802.11a/b/g clients, you might have to go as low as WEP.
- Enable Smart Connect (when available): This setting combines the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands into a single Wi-Fi network. It doesn’t necessarily improve compatibility, but it helps keep your connection consistent since clients can automatically switch between the two.
- Turn off 802.11ax HE frame support: Available in some routers, this setting favor performance for Wi-Fi 6 clients. If you have a lot of Wi-Fi 5 and older devices, you should turn it off.
- Turn on Extended NSS: Similarly, this setting is not available in all routers, but if yours supports it, it’s in the advanced/professional area. Also, it’s highly likely that it’s already turned on by default.
By the way, if you use a tri-band router, you can name one of the 5GHz band as a separate network and use it exclusively for high-speed clients leaving the other 5GHz band in the compatibility mode.
By the way, if you use a tri-band wireless mesh, set the backhaul band to be the fastest supported by the satellites. After that, there’s no need to worry about compatibility with this band.
3. Avoid Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) channels
If you live close to a radar station — within tens of miles — it’s a good idea not to use DFS channels. Note that all airports have radar.
DFS shares its airspace with radar and, by regulations, takes the back seat. Consequently, when radar signals are detected, a router automatically switches its DFS channels to one that’s not being used by the other party. When this happens, clients will experience a brief disconnection, from a few seconds to even a minute.
It’s a dilemma since DFS channels are necessary for top Wi-Fi 6 speeds. Depending on how frequent radar signals are present, you might not even notice the disconnection at all. But if that happens when you’re in the middle of a real-time communication app, like video conferencing, or online gaming, it sure is a pain.
How to not use DFS channels
This depends on the router — some don’t support DFS at all. Generally, you can make the router ignore all DFS channels, or manually pick one that’s not part of the DFS spectrum.
Before you can do that, though, note that DFS is only available in the 5GHz frequency band. So first, you’ll need to separate it from the 2.4GHz — turn off SmartConnect, that is — before you can make specific changes.
After that, keep in mind that the 160MHz channel width requires DFS, so don’t use it.
Finally, DFS ranges from channel 52 to 144. That means channels outside of this range, including 36, 40, 44, 48, 149, 153, 157, 161, and 165, are not part of this special spectrum. Make sure your router uses one of those.
4. Use simple Wi-Fi name and password
While this trick doesn’t seem to make sense, it has helped many situations in my experience. As it turns out, the complexity of the Wi-Fi network’s name (SSID) can be the reason why some clients — especially IoT devices — can’t connect to it.
That said, make your network name as simple as possible by following these rules:
- Use plain English letters
- Avoid using special characters or spaces
- Keep it short
That said, instead of using a name like “Dong Knows Tech”, or even worse, “Đông Knows Tech ⚡”, pick “Dong-Knows-Tech” or, better yet, just “DKT”. (Needless to say, the quotes are not part of the names.)
As for the password, it’s best to use a long string of numbers. You can make it long and random, so it’s hard to guess. A complex Wi-Fi password can be a pain when you need to enter it into an IoT device anyway.
If you need to use a fancy name and password for your Wi-Fi for one reason or another, you can create a separate simple Wi-Fi network just for the devices that can’t connect to the fancy one. In this case, you can make a Guest network for this purpose — just make sure you turn on the intranet access for it.
And that’s it. Now cross your finger and apply the changes. Hopefully, things are all good now. If not, it’s time to check on your clients.
How to fix Wi-Fi incompatibility on the client side
You need the latest Wi-Fi driver on each client for it to work well. The driver is a piece of software that allows a hardware component to work with the operating system.
If you’re on a Mac, you’ll need to upgrade your computer to the latest version of macOS and also the latest of whatever offered via Mac Software Update. That’s how you can keep your Wi-Fi driver updated. There’s no other way.
On a Windows computer or a mobile device, there are a few other things you can do.
How to upgrade Wi-Fi driver on a Windows computer
In Windows 10, you can check on the driver of the Wi-Fi adapter the same way you do any other hardware components. Here’s how:
1. Right-click on the Start button (lower-left corner) to bring up the Windows X menu. (I call it Windows X menu because you can also call it up, alternatively, by using the Windows + X keyboard combo.)
2. On the menu that pops up, click on the Device Manager item to bring up its window.
3. On the Device Manager window, navigate to a hardware component in question, in this case, it’s one of the Network adapters. Pick the Wi-Fi adapter, and double click on it to bring up the Properties window of that device.
4 On the Properties window, click on the Driver tab to look at the Driver Date value.
For a Wi-Fi adapter, the driver’s release date shouldn’t be before 2019. If so, it’s too old, and you want to try updating the driver. To do that, just click on the Update Driver button, then on Search automatically for updated driver software.
If there’s a new driver available, it’ll be downloaded and installed automatically. Alternatively, or if the computer can’t access the Internet, you can also check the manufacturer’s website using a different computer to see if there is a new driver. Download it and install it manually.
If there’s no driver update and the computer’s Wi-Fi doesn’t work with your new router, even after you have done all the tricks above, well, you’re out of luck. It’s time to think about replacing that Wi-Fi adapter or the computer entirely.
How to fix Wi-Fi dropping issue on a mobile device
You can’t update just the Wi-Fi software driver on a mobile device. The only way to update anything is to wait for the update pushed out by the manufacturer.
However, there are ways to fix your mobile device, especially an iDevice from Wi-Fi dropping issues, without getting any update.
Here are a few things to try. Note: In many cases, just one of these would fix the problem, so there’s no need to try all of them.
- Restart your device: When did you restart your phone? Exactly! It’s a good idea to close all open apps and perform a restart once in a while. That can solve a lot of issues, including those relating to Wi-Fi (and cellular) connection.
- Update your device to the latest OS version and patches: This is especially true with incremental updates, which tend to include the latest drivers. The update process will also restart your device, by the way.
- Reset the network setting: This will erase all saved Wi-Fi networks, and you will need to enter them again. However, it also removes all incorrect settings that might cause connection issues. You can find the Wi-Fi or Network reset in the General Settings area of the device, or you can search for it.
- Reset the device to default: This will erase everything you have on the device so make a backup first. This drastic step helps refresh your equipment and make it work like new, at its optimal state, which includes the best possible support for Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is a lot more complicated than wired networking. For one, it’s invisible. You can’t see the things that can cause interruptions in the radio waves. So knowing what has gone wrong could be a challenge.
That said, proper hardware setup on the router side and the latest software drivers on the clients’ are a must for a well-performing wireless network. Other than that, make sure you pick the best channel given your situation and use a simple SSID.