The WiFi is Down Again !

Five words that no one wants to hear in the home or the office – “The WiFi is down again !” But what do they really mean, and what should you do to fix it ?

What is “The WiFi” ?

Firstly, what do people mean when they say “the WiFi” ? Usually it means that the connection to the internet on the device they are using (i.e. a phone, laptop or tablet) has stopped working – so they can no longer use the internet.

To understand what may have gone wrong it helps to understand the basic parts of a typical UK WiFi network as shown below –

Components of a typical UK WiFi Network

The grey dotted line represents your home or office, inside which you will have a router, connected to a BT master socket (or similar) and several WiFi-connected devices. You may also have a landline telephone connected to the BT master socket.

The router sits between the WiFi devices and the internet. The WiFi devices connect to the router via a wireless radio signal, and the router then connects these devices to the internet, through a cable connected to the BT master socket.

What Can Go Wrong ?

Technically speaking, “the WiFi” is only the part shown by the green dotted lines between router and WiFi devices. But if any part of the system breaks then the effect is the same – the internet connection is lost, even though the actual WiFi part may be working perfectly.

In the diagram above, the red numbers 1 through 4 represent potential points of failure which result in the internet connection being lost (or “the WiFi going down”). The numbers also indicate the sequence that you should follow to identify and resolve the problem.

1. Check the WiFi Device

The first thing to check is the WiFi-enabled device itself (i.e. the phone, tablet or laptop) to ensure it has a connection to the router.  Check these items –

  1. Has the WiFi been switched off on the device?
  2. Make sure “Airplane Mode” has not been selected.
  3. Is the device connected to the WiFi network
  4. Is the signal strong enough ?

Bear in mind that the WiFi radio signal is generated by the router. As you move further away from the router the signal strength drops until it is no longer strong enough to maintain a connection. Move closer to the router when checking your device.

If all else seems ok, RESTART the device then check again for a good connection.

2. Check the WiFi Signal Is Present

Some routers have a switch which can turn the WiFi on or off. If present, check that this switch is ON and has not been inadvertently switched off.

Every WiFi generating device (i.e. router or access point) has a unique name associated with the particular WiFi network – the SSID. Check that the SSID for your network is visible on your device. If there are any other WiFi devices available, check that the SSID is visible on those devices too.

Next – RESTART the Router.

Restart the router using on/off switch OR unplugging the power connector

Most minor faults can be resolved by restarting the router. Do this as follows –

  1. Switch the router OFF (or unplug the power connector)
  2. Wait for 5 seconds
  3. Switch the router ON (or plug in the power connector)
  4. Wait until the router lights settle down

A full restart of a router will generally only take a few minutes – no more than 5 minutes.

Now check again – is the router SSID visible to your devices ? Are you connected to the WiFi network? Do you have an internet connection (open a web page to check the internet connection).

If there is still a problem and you have a computer or laptop that has a wired network connection (“Ethernet” or “LAN”) and you have a suitable network cable, then try connecting this device to the router using the cable rather than WiFi (this eliminates the WiFi part of your network from the tests and checks the router itself and beyond).

Where to connect a LAN cable to the rear of a router – use any of the yellow “Ethernet” sockets

Connect one end of the cable to any of the yellow “Ethernet” ports at the rear of the router and the other end of the cable to the laptop or computer.

Can you browse the internet on the laptop/computer now ? If you can then this means every other part of the network is working but your router is not generating a WiFi signal. RESTART the router. If this does not resolve the problem then the router may be faulty.

3. Check the Router

The router generates the WiFi signal and it provides the connection to the internet. If the router is not working properly then the internet will not be available.

Check the router as follows –

  1. Is the router switched on (are there lights showing ?)
  2. Are any “error” lights showing (often RED but depends on router)
  3. Is the router connected to the BT master telephone socket ?
  4. RESTART the router

Since a restart only takes a few minutes you may as well do this as part of the troubleshooting process. In most cases, a router restart will resolve the issue.

If there are no lights visible on the router, and it is definitely plugged into a working mains power socket – then the router is faulty and must be replaced.

If the router seems ok then check if you have a “broadband filter” fitted between the router and the BT Master socket

On the left, 2 broadband filters. On the right a BT Master socket that doesn’t need a filter

Two types of “broadband filter” are shown to the left. If your master socket looks like the one on the right (with two separate inlets – one for broadband/ADSL/VDSL and one for telephone) then you do not need a broadband filter.

Unplug and reconnect the filter, the cables to the filter and/or the master socket to ensure they have good connections. If you have spare broadband filter, swap it with the current one.

If there is a telephone connected to the master socket, check the that the telephone line works. Do you get a ring tone ? Can you make and receive calls ? If the telephone line does NOT work then it is very possible that there is a line fault that will also affect the internet connection.

4. Check Your Broadband Service

At this point you have checked every part of the network that is your responsibility. The rest of the network (from the BT Master Socket and beyond) is the responsibility of your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

There may be a service outage, or a line fault. Contact your ISP and ask them to check your line at this point. As part of their fault diagnosis they will ask you to restart the router, so ensure that you have tried this before you call them.

Fault Diagnosis Steps in Brief

The following lists the steps you should take when checking this problem –

  1. Check your WiFi device is connected
  2. Move the device closer to the router
  3. Restart the WiFi device
  4. Check WiFi is ON at the router
  5. Restart the router
  6. Try connecting a wired computer to the router
  7. Check for error lights on the router
  8. Restart the router
  9. Check the connections to the BT Master socket
  10. Check the telephone line works (if available)
  11. Restart the router
  12. Contact your Internet Service Provider