Wireless networking makes life a lot easier — at least, that’s the theory. But connecting to a wireless network can be troublesome, though the solution is often fairly simple. By following these six steps you will be able to identify and solve the most common problems quickly and easily. One thing to make sure of before starting is that wireless networking is switched on. On some computers youmay need to press a button or flick a switch before the PC can connect — it varies from PC to PC, but look for something marked Wireless, Wifi, 802.11 or with an antenna or radio waves (on Dell computers, hold down Fn and press F2). If you’re still having connection problems after all your equipment has been checked, then follow our advice to fix the problem.
The first port of call when checking for wireless network problems is the wireless network icon in the Notification Area, the small collection of icons at the bottom-right of the screen. The icon is a picture of two computer monitors, and if you have a working connection (or if the computer thinks you do) it will be partly covered by a blue-green globe. Hover your mouse over the icon (move the pointer over it but don’t click anything) and a small box will appear showing the strength of the wireless signal and what kind of access is available. If you can’t see the globe, or if you can but there’s still no network connection, the next step is to right-click the icon and select ‘Diagnose and repair’.
Once you’ve clicked ‘Diagnose and repair’ the computer will go through a process of figuring out what kind of connection you’re trying to make and attempt to reconnect to it. If the problem is temporary, you might find that it fixes itself at this point. Otherwise a window will appear with further options. Depending on the problem, you may be offered the option of trying to connect again or changing the wireless security key (see Step 3). If there’s no response from the network, you could try connecting with a network cable and logging into the router’s control panel to diagnose the fault. To do so, open a web browser and type the router’s address. It will usually be 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1, but details for this and the router’s administrator password will be in its manual.
Home networks should have some security set up (on the router or access point). A good option is WPA or WPA2 encryption (either or both will appear in the router’s setup page). WEP security is more widely used but is less secure. You will be prompted to enter a ‘key’, which can be any phrase of text. Remember this, as Vista will prompt you to enter it when you want to connect to the network. If you’re using a paid-for public hotspot there may be no security, but you will need to log on to the network. Once connected, open a web browser and you will be directed to a page where you can pay or log in, if you have an account.
If you can’t find the right name in the list of available wireless networks, it may be that the one to which you’re trying to connect has been hidden to prevent unauthorised access. To get to it, select Unnamed Network from the list and click Connect. You will be prompted to type the name of the network — get this fromthe owner of the network. Windows will then try to connect — if you need a passphrase or security key to access it, you’ll be prompted for that. Type it in and click Connect. A common problem here is mistyping of keys — tick the ‘Display characters’ box to be able to see what you’re typing, or copy and paste it from an email or text document.
If Windows can’t find any networks and your wireless facility is switched on (see introduction), check that the hardware is working. Click Start, then Control Panel, then Network and Sharing Center, then Manage Wireless Connections. Rightclick the wireless connection and select Enable. If that doesn’t work, click Start and type device, then click Device Manager when it appears above. In Device Manager, double-click Network Adapters to expand it, and look for your wireless network adapter. If it’s not there, make sure it’s physically connected. Check the fitting; if it’s a USB device try it in another port. A yellow exclamation mark in Device Managermeans it is not working — try installing the latest drivers from the maker’s website. A red X means it has been disabled — right-click it and select Enable.
Wireless networks can work over a number of ‘channels’. You can set the channel when you set up the network (on your router or wireless access point). If you live in a city with lots of wireless networks around you, choose a channel few others are using to minimise interference. Log in to your router (instructions vary between manufacturers) and choose another channel for the wireless connection (you’ll need to reconnect any computers connected to it) and see if performance improves. The placement of the wireless router is also important. If it has ‘line of sight’ to the computer you’ll get a better signal; if not, try to place it so there are fewer obstacles in the way.