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Troubleshooting Wi-Fi

A DIY Checklist for When Your Wi-Fi Isn't Normal

Everybody has Wi-Fi problems sometimes.

Most Wi-Fi problems can be fixed in minutes without calling anyone for help.

You Need Good Wi-Fi

Your Wi-Fi is the local piece of your network which allows your devices to connect to the broadband modem provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Wi-Fi is local to a room, house, or building. It is part of your LAN — Local Area Network.

All of Apple's computing devices use Wi-Fi. Even devices such as iPhones with cellular built-in will default to Wi-Fi when it's available. Most Macs, along with many iPads, Watches, and Smart Home devices don't even have Cellular, so Wi-Fi is their primary way to connect to a network. (Wi-Fi is usually more secure and faster than most cellular networks.)

What is Normal?

Basic Wi-Fi service needs to provide at least 20 MBPS (megabits per second) Download speeds and 5 MBPS Upload speeds. These are typical requirements to watch movie-streaming or join a Zoom video meeting. Your Mail, Messages, iCloud, and browser will work okay at these speeds, along with most other online activities.

Higher MBPS speeds offer a better experience with faster data transfers, while significantly slower speeds or unstable Wi-Fi can make your device seem to quit working. Interaction with the world beyond our computing devices is normal, so losing your Wi-Fi connectivity is disruptive and can grind your online activity to a halt.

Your first clue that something's wrong with your Wi-Fi will probably be an app failing to respond during any form of data transfer: text messages taking forever to send (especially with photos), emails not sending or refreshing, Safari pages not loading or taking too long, your Zoom meeting or video stutters, pauses, or quits loading.

You should test your Wi-Fi speeds now, while it's all working well, so you know what Normal Wi-Fi looks like on your network. For instance, if you know that you usually have about 50 MBPS Download and 8 MBPS Upload, running a speedtest will let you know if you still have those speeds or if your Wi-Fi has slowed significantly, or even if the test fails to run because it cannot connect to the Internet.

(TIP: If your ISP has tiered service plans— they usually claim only that you will get speeds "up to…" but without stating a minimum speed. You should be getting at least more than the "Up To" speed of the next lower tier if you're not on your ISP's cheapest plan. If you're getting less, complain that you're not getting the speed you pay for.)

Also look at your broadband modem and Wi-Fi router boxes while everything is operating normally to see which lights are on, off, or blinking. Knowing what Normal looks llike makes it much easier to tell when something's wrong and where the problem lies.

Finally, download whichever speedtest app (see #1 below) you will use now — while your Wi-Fi is working. You won't be able to download it when you need to use it — when your Wi-Fi is out!

Anytime your Wi-Fi isn't Normal, it's time to fix it.

Wi-Fi Troubleshooting Checklist

Do these steps in the order shown until your Wi-Fi is Normal again. (Stop when you get a normal test result—it's fixed—no need to go on.)

  1. Test your Wi-Fi connection with a speedtest app such as Speedtest by Ookla.
    (Ookla's app is available as a free utility in all of Apple's App Stores — iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and even the TV device. I install it on all my devices.)
  2. Turn off Wi-Fi in your device's Settings for at least 10 seconds, then turn it back on and retest.
  3. Reboot/ restart your device then retest.
  4. Test your speed on a different device (i.e. Mac, iPad, iPhone) if you have another one.
    If Device-2 tests normal when Device-1 didn't, the problem is with Device-1's connection to the local Wi-Fi network, not your Wi-Fi network itself. In that case, start over at step 2. If both devices test bad, continue to step 5.
  5. Turn off Wi-Fi in Settings on your devices.
  6. Go to your broadband modem and disconnect the power plug from the wall socket. If you also have a separate Wi-Fi router device, disconnect it's power as well.
  7. Check all plug-in cable connections to and from the modem/router with the power Off. Actually remove the connectors and reconnect them to be sure they fit firmly. Don't rely on how they look alone.
  8. Wait at least 5 minutes with the modem/router power Off. (This lets static or electrical charges dissipate before you reboot by powering it up.)
  9. Plug the power back in and wait for the broadband modem/Wi-Fi router to restart.
    This may take as little as a minute but possibly as much as 15 minutes, depending on the gear in use. Watch any lights on the front panels for them to all come on and either stop blinking or settle into a Normal rhythm.
  10. Turn Wi-Fi on in your device's Settings and then retest.
  11. If this fails after trying the whole process twice, contact your internet provider. The problem is most likely outside of your building or in the modem itself, which generally means it their problem to fix it. Be prepared to tell them exactly what you have already done so they will understand that you've already tested the areas within your control.

It has been my experience that most Wi-Fi problems are solved with this checklist. Often just disconnecting your device from Wi-Fi in your Settings and reconnecting will clear up a slow connection. A modem reboot takes care of most of the rest. The need to call an internet service provider (ISP) is rare.

Often your ISP can "reprovision the modem" from their office, resetting it's firmware, settings and speeds. Only faulty gear provided by your ISP, such as a failing modem, faulty cable, or external wiring problems requires someone to show up at your address.

In short, doing it yourself is faster, cheaper, and easier for everyone, and you get your Wi-Fi service back in a few minutes rather than waiting hours or days. Some ISPs charge for in-person service calls. (If they do charge you and it turns out it was their problem rather than something on the checklist above, ask for the service charge to be removed from your account.) Using this checklist could save you some $$$.

Now you can even help your friends when they have their own Wi-Fi issues. Everybody has Wi-Fi problems sometimes.

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Posted January 2023