Checklist When You Cannot Connect to Wi-Fi (or Get Thrown Out)

Illustration of smartphone that isn't connecting to wifi

When a mobile, PC or other wireless device fails to connect to Wi-Fi, or is constantly thrown out, there may be several explanations. Some of these you can test for yourself.

0. Is the Wi-Fi Network Down?

There are several things you can do to test this:

  • The simplest of course is to try to connect with another device, or get someone else to check whether they are able to connect.
  • If you can see the actual router (or other wireless access point) that you’re trying to connect to, look for light signals that indicate errors, or maybe the light is off.

If you are having general network issues, you will not find further answers in this article, which discusses issues with individual devices when the network is otherwise working.

Here are some links that may help:

  • If you have a router or repeater that is down or obviously not working properly, check the product documentation or contact your network provider for help if the issue is related to equipment they have supplied.
  • If Wi-Fi is up and working for all devices, but you experience dead zones and/or unstable performance, the problem may be the coverage. Se 18 free tips to improve your home Wi-Fi.
  • Brand new mobile or router, but the connection remains slow? Remember that the standard support must match end to end to get the full effect of your new equipment.

1. Does the Network Scan Work?

Let’s start with the most obvious:

  • Can you see the Wi-Fi symbol on your device at all, and is it actively searching for networks?
  • If not, double-check your settings: Is Wi-Fi turned on?
  • Is other functionality gone?

A reboot of your device or computer may be a good idea if certain functions have stopped working. Sometimes turning the client’s Wi-Fi on and off can be enough.

2. Can You See the Network You Want to Log on To?

If someone is logged on to a Wi-Fi network that your device can’t “see”, and you’ve already checked that the search for Wi-Fi is working, there are two main explanations for this; the SSID is hidden, or there are “too many” networks for your device to display.

A. Hidden SSID

Most routers and other access points have a setting called “Hide SSID” or similar. If this is enabled, you have to know the exact name of the network and manually enter it on each device yourself.

If you think a network may be hidden, you can test this with a Wi-Fi scanner — where the network will appear regardless of this SSID setting. As a Wi-Fi scanner will show a wireless network even when the SSID is hidden, this setting does not provide any particular level of increased security, and we do not recommend using it. You can get more advice on SSID setup here.

For more tips on using Wi-Fi scanners, see Locate good channels and bad neighbors with a Wi-Fi scanner.

B. “Too many” Wi-Fi Networks

This is very rarely the case for smartphones or PCs, but some types of devices, such as wireless printers, may have a limit on the number of networks they can retrieve and display.

For example, some will show only the first 10 networks being detected, even if more than 20 networks are available. In this case, it may be necessary to enter the network name (SSID) directly onto the device to connect.

3. Have You Updated the Firmware and Any Drivers?

Check that any devices that are struggling to connect or get thrown off the network have the latest system updates installed.

To update your iPhone and turn on Automatic Updates:

4. Have You Been Shopping for Electronics Abroad?

If you are using a mobile or other device made for a market outside of Europe, or a low-cost product, it may not be able to communicate on the Wi-Fi channels used:

  • The 2.4 GHz band has 14 channels. 13 of them are in use in Europe, but products aimed at the US market will generally not support channels 12 and 13, because it is forbidden to use these channels in the United States.
  • On the 5 GHz band, there is a high number of channels spread out across several so-called U-NII bands. Japan and some other Asian countries have their own limitations on which channels and tapes can be used on the 5 GHz band. Products aimed at these markets may have difficulty using the channels supported in Europe. A complete, color-coded overview of which channels are allowed to be used in which countries can be found in this Wikipedia article about U-NII.

Many low-cost products may also have channel constraints, regardless of which market they were made for. If you have any doubts about what your device supports, check the documentation for it.

This is also one reason we strongly recommend checking the wireless capabilities of any device before buying.

To find out which channel your wireless network uses and optionally change it, you need to log in to the settings of your router or access point:

  • For the 2.4 GHz band, the channel must be set to 11 or lower to support all devices.
  • For 5 GHz bands, channels 36, 40 and 44 are allowed in all countries except China.

More on finding the best channel on the 2.4 GHz band can be found in: How to locate good Wi-Fi channels and bad neighbors.

5. Are You Logged On to Wi-Fi, But Get Pushed to a Mobile Network?

The Apple iPhone has a feature called Wi-Fi Assist or Wi-Fi helper, which is turned on by default. We recommend turning this off if you want to avoid your Wi-Fi and mobile network competing with each other once you are connected to Wi-Fi. Especially if you have a mesh network, such as AirTies Wi-Fi, it is better to let the mesh network control where your devices are connected.

You can read more about Wi-Fi Assist and how to enable and disable it here:

Some More Background About Different Client Behavior on Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is not one standard, but many. Not only are there different versions and “vintages” of Wi-Fi, but there are also a lot of specialized standards that apply, for example, the movement between access points (also called roaming, 802.11r), Wi-Fi Radio Resource management (802.11k), and so on. Each of these standards contains mandatory and optional parts.

Suppliers choose different subsets and implementations. The most well-known initiative to get vendors to be more aligned is the Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies products with Wi-Fi support. This alliance has hundreds of vendors as members. Apple is the most well-known company that is not a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance and consistently does not certify its products.

If you have a mesh network with client and band steering, such as AirTies Wi-Fi, your network is trying to stay in control of what is the best connection for anyone connecting to the network. At the same time, many of the devices that connect have their own functionality that tries to dictate what kind of connection to accept, in order to ensure the the best experience for the user–as in the Apple Wi-Fi Assist example above. This is especially true for smartphones.

When the mesh network tries to move the phone to another node and the smartphone will not move, you can get a battle where both parties try to prevent the other from making stupid decisions. The client steering in the mesh network wants to make sure that the client is connected to the best frequency band and the most appropriate node in the network, whereas clients, for example, often simply prefer the strongest signal, which in many cases can come from the 2.4 GHz network. If the mesh network withdraws from this battle, the client is in control.

Article by Geir Arne Rimala and Jorunn Danielsen