What’s Up With WiFi?

This piece on how to best troubleshoot residential wireless issues originally appeared on the TDS Telecom “Connect” Blog July 8th, 2013.

Every day I speak with TDS customers from around the country who have questions about how their Internet service works. In the last decade the Internet has undergone transformative changes, both in the way service is delivered to customers and the way customers utilize their Internet connection. Nowadays, when you look around your home it is nearly impossible not to see dozens if not more wirelessly connected devices. Your smart phone, your gaming system, your Netflix set-top box, all of these are examples of technologies which utilize wireless Internet connections to deliver a variety of services to our customers. In the course of supporting those customers who make use of our wireless modems and routers, I have come across a number of common problems that people face, both in connecting to their network and in using it to its fullest capacity.

Our mission today, should you choose to join us, is to explain some common misconceptions regarding wireless technology and arm you with some of the tools you can use to combat them.

What Is WiFi?

Before we get into specific problems, it is worth taking a few moments to better understand what WiFi is and how it works.

WiFi is a data delivery system that utilizes an antenna capable of broadcasting a signal on the 802.11 protocol. The Internet connection is delivered to your home either by traditional copper telephone lines or high-speed fiber optic cable, where it is then converted into a radio signal that can be received by wireless-enabled devices.

TDS utilizes two different types of wireless delivery systems to accomplish this. The first of these is a combination DSL Modem/Router.

TDS DSL customers are typically issued an Actiontec GT724-WG or GT784-WN model, both of which serve to convert the signal that travels across the phone line into data that can then be transmitted to the customer by way of wireless. Without this piece of equipment, internet connection cannot be established for DSL customers.

Our fiber optic customers are ordinarily issued an Actiontec V1000H router.

Unlike the DSL modem/router combination, this device simply transmits an already converted data stream into a wireless transmission. Even without the router, customers with fiber-optic service can connect to the internet with an Ethernet cable.

That’s a whole lot of technical gobbledegook, right? In layman’s terms what this all means is that your Internet service comes into your house via a hard-line connection of some sort and is converted into a WiFi signal by your modem or router. If you’re having problems with your WiFi, thats always the first place to start.

Making WiFi Work For You

Now that we have a very basic understanding of the concepts and hardware, let’s look at some of three of the top problems people face when it comes to WiFi and how to combat them.

3. Sinking Signal Strength

WiFi is a tricky technology, and there are a multitude of factors that can cause you to receive a lower signal strength than what you’re used to. In many cases, this is nothing more than the modem or router having aged to the point where its ability to broadcast has decreased. This isn’t unusual, and is something to be expected of any piece of electronics that is left turned on for days and weeks on end. The estimated life span for one of our devices is between three and five years.

In many cases, however, the issue is not resolved by simply replacing the hardware. Outside of simply getting old, the most common culprits when it comes to low signal strength are obstructions, or objects situated between the transmitter and device you’re trying to use. Like an radio signal, WiFi is vulnerable to being blocked by common household objects. This includes anything from the obvious things such as ventilation shafts in the walls to fish tanks and even certain ceramics.

When situating your wireless router, remember to consider what communications professionals call “line-of-sight”, or LOS for short. Imagine drawing a line from your router to the device you are attempting to use and ask yourself whether that line passes through anything that which might interfere with the signal. If the answer is yes, then you may have found the source of your problem. And please, please do not site the router inside a large metal box or in the deepest recesses of your entertainment center. Yes, this happens.

2. The Curse of Competing Channels

If you’ve eliminated location or blockages as the source of your WiFi woes and you’re still seeing poorer service than you expect, it may be time to dig a little deeper.

When you look at your computer or smart phone and pull up a list of available wireless networks, you will most likely see quite a few. Unless they are in a rural or otherwise isolated area, the average home will receive signals from at least four different wireless networks. The more networks you see on that list, the more “noise” there is for your router to cut through. What’s more, there are any number of items that are common in many homes that are using that same the 802.11 protocol to communicate. Cordless phones, some remote controlled cars, and even microwave ovens all use this little slice of spectrum to talk to each other.

When trying to cut through that noise, the first thing you’ll want to do is get the lay of the land. This will require a little work, but most of what you need can be found by downloading freeware tools such asWireShark that will provide you with a list of all the 802.11 protocol signals within range, their relative signal strength in decibels (dB) and which of the eleven available channels they are using. Some routers will do this automatically whenever they are powered down and powered back up, but others will not.

Once you know where the existing noise is coming from, there is a quick and easy process for changing to a channel of your choosing. Just connect to your router with an ethernet cable and go through the following steps:

Change Wireless Channel
1. Open a web browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, etc).
2. Enter or into your address bar. (Or click either link)
3. The Gateway may ask for a password. If it does use the following. (admin/password)
4. Click Wireless Setup on the top.
5. From the menu on the left click Basic Settings.
6. In the drop down box under Channel select the desired channel. (Channels 1,3,9,11)

There, wasn’t that easy? Obviously this process will vary slightly depending on the model of modem/router you may have in your home, but this will give you an idea of where to start exploring.

1. The Dreaded Password Paradox

Let’s all admit one thing: passwords are the bane of our existence. Whether a technical support professional or an average customer, everyone has more passwords than they care to count. There’s the password for your bank, your power company, your beloved internet service provider and, most of all there’s the password for the WiFi. Without that password, life can seem impossible. Your Kindle or iPhone is rendered useless and all seems lost. I’ve even spoken with parents who routinely withhold the wireless password as a way of encouraging lazy children to complete their chores.

Often times we will receive calls from customers who have either forgotten their wireless password or have had it mysteriously change on them. Now, sometimes this is the result of a little bit of amateur networking on the part of an enterprising youngster, and sometimes it’s something as simple as a power surge having hard reset the router.

In either case, there is always hope when it comes to wireless password.

Just like before, begin by connecting to your router with an ethernet cable, then follow the following steps:

Change Wireless Password
1. Open a web browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, etc).
2. Enter or into your address bar. (Or click either link)
3. The Gateway may ask for a password. If it does use the following. (admin/password)
4. Click Security on the top.
5. In the text box next to WPA Key/Key Passphrase you will see the password for your network.

Now, once you’ve found this box, you can continue to use the same password or you can change it to one that you can remember more easily. Also, if you have some dishes that need done, I’d suggest changing it and holding it hostage until you get what you want. You’d be surprised how quickly kids can move when their access to copious amounts of kitten pictures is cut off.

Knowing is Half the Battle

We’ve come to the end of our brief trip down WiFi Way.Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about the technology you use in your home and feel at least a little better armed when it comes to fixing some of the problems that crop up. There will, of course, be issues that come along which were not covered here. When this happens, we always want to hear from you. Providing quality customer service is a top priority at TDS, and we’re always eager to answer questions from our customers.

If you want to get in touch with us, you can leave a comment below find us on Facebook, give us a shout on Twitter or, as always, contact TDS Customer Support at 1-866-571-6662.

Now go forth, wireless warriors!



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