How to Fix Typical Wireless Wi-Fi Router Problems

With the Wi-Fi wireless router being THE central component in most home computer networks these days, it’s common to hear discussion of common router issues and how to address them.

With so many of us creating wireless networks in our homes, apartments, dorms, et al, it’s likely also, that most of us have experienced some sort of Wi-Fi router trouble within the past decade.

Most problems exhibit as a loss of Internet connectivity on wireless  devices, either no or weak Wi-Fi signal, inability to log in to the Wi-Fi connection, and sporadic, slow, or otherwise unreliable Wi-Fi connections.  Take the following preliminary steps before attempting to diagnose the trouble, as they could solve your issue without your having to troubleshoot at all.

Check for blocked vents.  Sitting the router on a carpeted floor for example, on its side, may obstruct ventilation and cause overheating and the resulting poor or non existent performance.

Replace any broken or kinked Ethernet cables.  If any of the RJ-45 connectors on any Ethernet cable have broken latch tabs or abrupt kinks and bends, try replacing with a fresh, undamaged cable.

Verify correct cable connections.  Make sure that the WAN cable, from the modem if your router and modem are separate devices, is connected to the correct (WAN) port on the router.  If you’ve configured a DMZ (demilitarized zone) host on your home network, make sure that its Ethernet cable is connected to the correct local port on the router.

Reboot cable / DSL modem and router.  Doing this is easier when your Wi-Fi router and ISP modem are combined into one unit.  Simply power off the unit, wait thirty seconds, and then power it up again.  It’s best to do a “cold” reboot, where you actually disconnect the router from power.  The “warm” reboots, those that you initiate from within the router’s web interface, may not completely reset the router hardware.

Install latest router firmware update.  Older firmware may have bugs that show up under more load, when you add more data demanding devices to your network.  Installation of newer firmware may increase stable router capacity and improve multi-user connection reliability.

Reset router to factory default parameters.  It’s possible that you or someone else unintentionally adjusted a setting, such as Wi-Fi beacon interval, DTS, RTS, et al, that is impacting wireless data speeds.  Falling back to the router’s default settings usually fixes all of these sorts of errors. Write down any settings that you know that you’ve changed from their defaults.  Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specific reset details.  However generally, with the router powered on, depress and hold the reset button (usually a red button, located in a recessed opening on the back or bottom of the router case) for thirty seconds.  Then release.  This initiates a reboot, and a restoration of the default settings.  Some routers have you power them off first, then, while holding in the reset button, powering back on.  Again, check your users guide for the specifics on your wireless router. After reset is complete, re apply your specific non-default settings that you wrote down before the reset.

Move router away from dense walls and interference sources.  If dead spots, frequent dropouts, or weak and erratic Wi-Fi connections are your problem, try repositioning the router away from thick walls, metal objects, or sources of interference such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, and Bluetooth devices.

Replace router with a known good one.  To narrow down the location of the problem you’re having to the router itself, you could try substituting the problematic router with a known good unit, and see if wireless performance improves.

Specific Wi-Fi Problems and Suggested Solutions

We run several routers in our computer lab often, and hear much of the scoop in our apartment building about the kinds of difficulties both novice and advanced network users face that were determined to be the cause of poor or failed router performance. We  have listed common router problems below, along with how we solved them.

Router does not power on.

  • Verify all power connections.  Check that the power cable / adapter is plugged in at both ends; the 120-volt outlet end, as well as the low-voltage end that fits into the DC power port on the router.
  • Does outlet have power?  Verify that the 120-volt outlet is energized by plugging a lamp or other small appliance into it and checking to see that it operates correctly.
  • Fix power outlet. If not, restore power to the outlet by turning on any switches that may control it, and check that you do not have blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers that feed the outlet.
  • Test the router’s power supply.  But if the 120-volt outlet checks out okay, check the voltage output of the router’s power adapter.  The output should be within 5% of the rated DC value, which is usually printed somewhere on the power supply case.
  • Swap out the power adaptor.  Or, if you happen to have a spare equivalent adapter in house, try substituting IT for the suspected one.  If the substitute powers on the router, then replace the power adapter.

Router operating but no Wi-Fi signal.

  • Turn on the wireless radio.  The Wi-Fi radio may be switched off in the router’s configuration menus, under the advanced wireless settings.  Check and turn it on, if off.
  • Make sure antennas are tightly fastened.
  • Replace router.  Or, the Wi-Fi transmitter may have failed.  So replace the router to verify.  .

WiFi authentication failures.

  • Verify password.  Make sure you know the correct password that your WiFi router was set up to accept.  If you don’t know it, then reset the password to something that you can remember.
  • Verify security mode.  You normally don’t have to do this, as most client wireless devices these days can detect the correct security mode being utilized by in-range Wi-Fi networks.  However, knowing if the wireless connection is utilizing WEP, WPA, or WPA2 is required when you manually enter the wireless network information; such as when you’re connecting to an invisible network, where you must manually enter its SSID, password, and security mode.

Weak Wi-Fi signal or slow connection, even when close to the Wi-Fi router.

  • Set radio power output to maximum.  Many routers feature a power output adjustment in their configuration menus.  It’s possible that this has either changed, or that a recent router repositioning requires greater power output to adequately cover your environment.  Try temporarily raising the output level to Full or 100 percent.
  • Replace router power adaptor.  Also, a weak power adaptor can weaken the routers Wi-Fi signal.  So try substituting an equivalent new adaptor.
  • Upgrade to a higher power router.  Your router may offer too little signal output to adequately cover your desired coverage area.  So, upgrade to a unit that says that it offers higher power (several hundred milliwatts) or full legal power output (1000 milliwatts).

Unreliable Wi-Fi connections.  While the local Ethernet connections work at top speed, the wireless devices may slow down due to the following.

  • Congested Wi-Fi channel.  Your wireless router is broadcasting on an overly crowded radio channel.  Try switching the router’s operating frequency to correct, because many routers ship with their channel selection to occur automatically at boot up. Often however, channel conditions can change since the last boot, or the router simply chooses a channel without adequate pre-scanning to determine just how busy it is.  We recommend running a Wi-Fi analyzer app, such as the Amped Wireless Wi-Fi Analytics app, to determine the least congested channel in your area to use. Then, adjust your router accordingly.
  • Overly crowded 2.4 Ghz. Wi-Fi frequencies.  If all the channels show strong Wi-Fi activity in the Wi-Fi Analytics app, or you have many non Wi-Fi devices in your home that operate on 2.4 Ghz., then either enable your router’s 5 Ghz. network, or upgrade to a dual or tri band router that offers it.  Then, switch your wireless devices over to the higher frequency network.  Or, if you want to add a 5 Ghz. wireless network without replacing your existing router, try adding a 5 Ghz. wireless access point.  Netgear offers such devices.  However, be aware that not all client devices support 5 Ghz. wireless N or wireless AC.
  • Desired coverage area is too large.  The size of your home, apartment, or industrial coverage area may simply be too big for a single Wi-Fi router, even a full power router, to cover well.  So, you could try adding more access points and Wi-Fi range extenders at the most distant points from your ISP interface, to fill in the dead spots.  Of course, this means either running new LAN network cables to the distant access points, adding MoCA  (media over coax) units if you have coax cable (such as used in cable television installations) near to both the original router and the desired new access point location.  Similar technologies exist to connect distant routers together over the power wiring.  But whatever interconnecting method you utilize, the object is to install adequately powered Wi-Fi access points into those “fringe” areas in your coverage space.

Non uniform signal coverage.  Many Wi-Fi routers and access points feature adjustable output antennas.

  • Re orient the antennas.  Try reorienting the antennas to see if signal coverage in your target areas improves.  Also, some routers like the Asus Dual Band Router RT-AC87R  that feature beam forming technology, require that the antennas be positioned according to a supplied diagram in their users guides.  Position the antennas as shown there.
  • Pick a better router location.  Or, try installing the router in a central location, which helps assure more even signal distribution throughout your home space.
  • Upgrade to a MIMO Wi-Fi router.  Multiple Input Multiple Output routers often feature more than one antenna and contain multiple radios. Where one antenna might not get the signal well, another one, even though it’s only a few inches away from the first, often will.  So the system switches between its various antennas as signal conditions change, choosing the best reception path at all times.  This feature will often eliminate dead spots and null reception areas around the house or apartment.  This technology is part of the Wireless N standard. So you’ll need a wireless N router to fully exploit it.

Router stability problems.  If data connections, either via the wireless or Ethernet interfaces exhibit varying speeds or chronically slow transfer characteristics, try the following.

  • Check all connections.  Verify that every Ethernet connection is tight and true.
  • Install updated firmware, or, if the problem started AFTER you installed the latest version, try installing an older but more stable firmware version.  Check and replace power supply.  Check that any removable antennas are tightly fastened.  Move router away from interference sources.  Try adjusting antennas.  Verify that all connected Ethernet cables are capable of handling gigabit data speeds.
  • Faulty Ethernet cables.  Replace cables (particularly the ISP cable from the modem) with CAT-6 Ethernet patch cords.
  • Bad power supply.  Replace the adaptor.

Hopefully, these typical problems and suggested solutions will help you resolve any Wi-Fi network troubles you may be having.  As should be apparent now, it’s not always necessary to replace your router when addressing specific issues.

If you decide to replace your router after all, see our   How to Replace Old Defective Wireless Wi-Fi Routers   piece for instructions.

If you’re wondering just how to know when your wireless router should be retired in lew of a new one, see our   Time to Replace Your Wireless Router When…   article for common symptoms and behaviors that indicate that the router should be replaced.

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Revision History

  • 2016-01-14: Added more appropriate tags.
  • 2015-09-27: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2015-07-20: Originally published.