Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet
Most laptop manufacturers provide an external switch to switch on/off the WiFi functionality. As a result, the first problem most new laptop owners encounter with trying to connect to a wireless network is that their WiFi has inadvertently been switched off. So, if you have a WiFi connectivity issue, the first thing to make sure of is that your laptop's WiFi external switch is on.
The next most common problem when it comes to WiFi connectivity issues is that the signal strength is too weak to hold a connection. This can be extremely confusing if the network is working fine for a person sitting at the next table. This could be due to several reasons. This person's laptop might have a more sensitive WiFi receiver, be set in just the right location where the signal strength is maximum, or even be accessing a different WiFi network other than the one you are trying to connect to. When you're troubleshooting a wireless connection, make sure to get as close to the router as you can, certainly in the same room if it's in your own home, so you can eliminate signal strength as a possible issue.
In order to prevent every stranger who walks by from accessing any network with WiFi capability, there are a number of security options that can be set on WiFi routers. The most common of these is simply enabling password protection, so that any laptop trying to connect to the network will have to provide a password for the initial connection (after that the operating system remembers the password). In order that you be able to connect to a WiFi network, you will have to set up your laptop's WiFi connection with the correct key. First, try the key printed on the router label, but if a custom password was created when the network was set up, you'll either have to find the piece of paper where it was written or chase the person who set up the network. If the password absolutely can't be recovered, search the Internet for how to reset the router (varies with brand), create a new password and enter it on all the computers that use the connection.
In some cases, it's easy to reset the password or turn the security on and off by connecting directly to the router with an Ethernet cable and typing the fixed IP address for the router into your browser.
Connecting directly by cable to the router is an important troubleshooting step for wireless connectivity even if you don't have a password problem. If you can't connect to the Internet even after plugging directly into the router, neither the wireless adapter in your laptop nor the wireless transceiver in the router are at fault.
If you plug directly into the router via the Ethernet cable and you gain access to the Internet, you can continue troubleshooting wireless issues. Check Device Manager to see if it's complaining about the network hardware. If not, and you still can't gain access at this point, the problem is either with the high speed modem and ISP, or a networking software issue within the operating system.
High speed modems, often called routers if they include a built-in router, are equipped with a series of status LEDs that can be used to diagnose many connectivity problems. Whether you have a cable modem connecting to the cable company, DSL via the phone company or one of the more esoteric high speed modems, they should always include an LED that tells you if the connection between the modem and the Internet has been established. If this link light is out, or has changed colors, say from the familiar green to an ominous red, power down the modem and turn it back on again. This hard reset will usually fix dropped connection problems caused by storms, power surges or signal interruptions, providing the modem hasn't been damaged. A modem/router will also include a status LED to show whether an Ethernet cable connection to your laptop is good, and your laptop will have a little status/activity LED for the network connection as well. While color coding isn't universal, solid green usually indicates a good connection, and blinking green or orange usually indicates activity. Some modems include an LED to tell you if the DSL or cable link to the ISP is good even when the Internet isn't functioning.
Operating system issues affecting connectivity can include firewall (security software) settings that prevent your computer from establishing communications with the Internet Service Provider (ISP), or the failure to install the software that ISP requires. Unfortunately, there are also more complicated problems that will require drawn out conversations with the ISP's technical support department to troubleshoot.
If you're adventurous, or desperate, you'll find all sorts of third party software online that will reset the Windows stack or change registry settings back to defaults, but you're better off trying the tech support route first if a software glitch is at the bottom of your problems.
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