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Issue #715: April 4-10, 2021

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Q: My HP laptop’s wireless connection frequently drops, sometimes after being in sleep mode; other times while using the Internet (and occasionally after “your internet connection is unstable” appears on my screen). All Windows and HP updates are current. I’ve tried changing power settings, checking for new device drivers, and disconnecting/reconnecting the modem and router. My internet security (McAfee LiveSafe) says no viruses. Any idea how to resolve this problem? BTW, our desktop computer is a wired ethernet connection; no problems with it. Thanks in advance.

 – Rory C.
Niceville, Florida

A:  You’re welcome in advance, Rory, though you should probably save your gratitude until you see if I can actually help you with your problem.

I’ve talked about Wi-Fi problems before, including the very subject about which you wrote-in: dropped connections.  Let me quote myself from a prior issue (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #631, August 25, 2019).  Back then, the device was a Smart TV, but this is just as relevant today, and for a laptop, so don’t let the TV reference throw you.

“Since your connectivity seems to be exclusively via Wi-Fi, my suspicion turns to radiometric interference that simply overwhelms the frequency that your equipment is using.  Many items in the home generate radio frequency interference (RFI) on the same band your routers use.  Microwave ovens, cordless phones, devices with electric motors such as vacuum cleaners, can all interfere with a Wi-Fi signal.  The way to deal with this is to either change the frequency (if your router supports it) or relocate the router to be closer to the point of usage.  The practicality of this solution will depend on your setup, and how much equipment and wiring will need to be relocated.  If you can relocate the router nearer to the TV, you could completely eliminate connectivity issues by using a CAT5 cable instead of Wi-Fi.”

As I mentioned in the above quote, and you alluded to in your question, wired connections are always more reliable than wireless.  They are often faster, and usually more secure than Wi-Fi as well, since by their very nature and physical location, they are harder to “sniff” than a pool of radio waves that can’t be contained inside the walls of your home.  I routinely pick up my neighbors’ Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) on devices in my home, and I presume they see mine, since I can use my Wi-Fi out in the yard, across the street, and even down the block on occasion during the Christmas light show season.  My point is, if your home network is set up in such a way that it’s feasible to connect over a wire, rather than wirelessly, that’s what I recommend in almost every case, and that would be a good way to solve this issue.

If not, then there are further points for you to ponder.  Most importantly, is this laptop the only device that’s having issues?  No smartphones, pad devices, or Internet of Things (IOT) devices, such as smart doorbells, IP cameras, etc. have the problem?  If it’s endemic to that one laptop, and you can eliminate the aforementioned RFI as a source of the problem, then you may have something wrong with your configuration, despite your belief that you have all the latest drivers and Windows updates.  Your system might also have malware that your McAfee software can’t find.

By a large margin, these few tips don’t cover every conceivable cause of your problem.  You might have a bad, or questionable cable in your network, that can cause this problem.  Your router, or the PC itself could have age-related issues, and is simply wearing out.  If you have multiple people in your home using large amounts of bandwidth simultaneously and you don’t have adequate Internet speed, that could be overwhelming your system, and causing the dropouts. For example, that message you cited?  The only program I know of that generates that particular message is the Zoom teleconferencing software.  If someone is on Zoom and at the same time someone else is streaming a movie, while someone else is online gaming, that takes a lot of bandwidth.

There are so many different things that can cause a wireless connection to drop, that there’s no way I can possibly cover them here.  I found an online article for you that does a pretty good job of providing some solutions.  You can read it at TinyURL.com/IGTM-0715.

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