Insight

Why does my device lose its Wi-Fi connection?

A flaky connection can make working on your Apple device a pain. Here’s how to troubleshoot it.
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Occasionally, your Mac, iPhone or iPad can lose its connection to your Wi-Fi router. Other Apple peripherals, like Apple’s Time Capsule and Apple TV can suffer from the same problem.

In many cases it’s down to the strength and quality of your Wi-Fi router’s signal.

OS X has a built in diagnostic that can help you to troubleshoot Mac connection problems. Firstly, OPTION click on the Wi-Fi icon in your menubar, you’ll see a bit of extra information about the connection including the signal strength and the channel that Airport is connected to.

Choose “Open Wireless Diagnostics”. Login if prompted and run a diganostic on your set-up. After the diagnostic has completed, you can choose to monitor the connection over time or go straight to the summary screen. The summary screen contains some pointers to help you get the most from your connection and, if poor signal quality or strength is the culprit, you’ll see some tips to improve the issue.

Wireless Diagnostics, built into OS X from 10.7, can pinpoint problems with your Wi-Fi and offer tips for improvement.

Usually, issues of signal strength are due to being too far away from your router or obstructions between your device and the source of the signal. The remedy, if you can, is to move your machine closer to the source of the Wi-Fi.

That’s not always possible – but you can extend the range of your Wi-Fi equipment with a “repeater”. Available for online purchase from as little as £15, Wi-Fi repeaters plug into a domestic electricity socket and amplify the signal between your router and your Mac or other Apple device.

Sometimes it’s not distance or thick walls that affect the signal – but interference. It can come from a variety of electrical sources, including Christmas fairy lights! But the main cause of Wi-Fi interference is other people’s Wi-Fi.

If your neighbour has their Wi-Fi signal set to the same channel as yours – or an adjacent channel – it can decrease the reliability of your connection significantly. How do find out? Hop onto your Mac again and OPTION click on the Wi-Fi icon to open Wireless Diagnostics again. This time either you’ll need to perform a Wi-Fi scan.

Sharing Wi-Fi channels with neighbours can lead to interference. Check if you’re affected with Wireless Diagnostics.

On Lion you can hit CMD and N to open up the Network Utilities window. On Mountain Lion, you’ll need to go to Window > Utilities. In either case, you then choose Wi-Fi Scan to get a list of signals in the vicinity – including your own. You can also find out what channel all signals are on. This is where the detective work begins. Find your own connection and note the channel number. Compare it with the channel numbers of any other Wi-Fi sources in the area. Interference between channels can occur up to two channels either side.

For example, if your Wi-Fi broadcasts over channel 6, you could experience interference from signals in channels 4 to 8 – though interference will be greater if both signals share the same channel.

The fastest fix for channel interference is to set your router to choose its broadcast channel automatically. The way you do this varies from router to router – but usually you will need to access your router’s admin panel via a web browser and find the WLAN or Wi-Fi settings section. Check your broadband provider’s help documentation for complete instructions.

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