What to do when the home network router is not working

You’ve carefully followed all the instructions in your network router’s setup guide, but for whatever reason, your connections aren’t working as they should. Maybe everything was working before and suddenly started failing, or maybe you’ve spent days or weeks trying to get through the initial setup. Use these troubleshooting guidelines to isolate and resolve network problems related to your router: Keep in mind that there may be more than one problem.

Mismatched Wi-Fi security settings

Seemingly the most common cause of wireless network setup issues, incompatible settings between two Wi-Fi devices (such as your router and a PC) will prevent them from establishing a network connection. Check the following settings on all Wi-Fi devices to make sure they are compatible:

  • Network Mode – A router must be enabled to support all versions of Wi-Fi used by network clients. For example, routers configured to operate in “802.11g only” mode are not compatible with 802.11n or older 802.11b devices. To fix this type of network failure, change the router to work in “mixed mode”.
  • Security mode: Most Wi-Fi devices support multiple network security protocols (usually different variations of WPA and WEP). All Wi-Fi devices, including routers that belong to the same local network, must use the same security mode.
  • Security key : Wi-Fi security keys are passphrases or sequences of letters and digits. All devices connecting to a network must be programmed to use a Wi-Fi key recognized by the router (or wireless access point). Many home network routers (access points) support only one key that all devices must share in common. Some newer routers can store multiple Wi-Fi security keys instead of one, however they technically allow local devices to have different key settings (although keeping your keys at the same time can just setup and troubleshoot).

MAC address restrictions

Many network routers support a feature called MAC address filtering. Although it is disabled by default, router administrators can enable this feature and restrict connections to only certain devices based on their MAC address number. If you’re having difficulty getting a specific device to join your local network (especially if it’s new), check your router to make sure that (a) MAC address filtering is “off” or (b) the device’s MAC address is included in the list of allowed connections.

Loose or disconnected cables

Sometimes the router turns off, or someone in the family accidentally disconnects it. Make sure the power strips are turned on and receiving power from the outlet and, if applicable, that the Ethernet cables are seated properly; the connectors should make a clicking sound when they snap into position. If the router cannot connect to the Internet but works normally, make sure the modem cables are connected properly.

Overheating or overload

Downloading large files or transmitting data for long periods causes a home network router to generate heat. In some cases, routers will overheat due to sustained heavy load. An overheated router will behave unpredictably, eventually disconnecting devices from the local network and causing a failure. Turning off the router and allowing it to cool down temporarily resolves the issue, but if this issue occurs often, make sure the router has adequate ventilation (no obstructions) and consider moving it to a cooler location.

Home routers can typically handle ten or more connected clients, although if too many devices are actively using the network at once, similar overload issues can occur. Even when physical overheating does not occur, high network activity can cause outages. Consider adding a second router to the network in these cases to better handle the load.

Wireless signal limitations

Because the range of Wi-Fi radio signals is limited, home network connections sometimes fail because a device’s radio can’t catch up with the router’s.

Some people have also had their working wireless network disconnected as soon as someone in the house turns on the microwave. Garage door openers and other consumer devices inside homes can also interfere with signals from Wi-Fi networks, particularly those that use the 2.4 GHz radio bands.

It’s also common in cities for signals from multiple home Wi-Fi networks to intermingle with each other. Even within his own home, a person can discover one or more of his neighbors’ wireless networks when he attempts to connect to yours.

To avoid these wireless radio interference and range limitations, change the Wi-Fi channel number of the router or relocate the router. Finally, consider changing your router’s name (SSID) if a neighbor is using the same one.

Faulty or outdated hardware or firmware

It’s not uncommon for routers to fail after years of regular use. Lightning or other electrical power surges can also damage circuits in network equipment. Because they have few moving parts, trying to repair network routers is rarely practical. Set aside some budget to periodically replace your router (and any other essential network equipment). Also, consider keeping some spare cables and a cheap backup router to help with emergency troubleshooting.

Before you stop using a router, try updating the router’s firmware first. Sometimes there will be no firmware update available, but in other cases the newest firmware may contain fixes for overloading or signaling issues.