Troubleshooting Windows 7 Wireless Networking Problems (Part 2)

by [Published on 8 July 2010 / Last Updated on 8 July 2010]

This article continues the discussion of Windows 7 wireless networking connectivity issues by talking about some of the most basic causes of wireless connectivity problems.

If you would like to read the other parts in this series please go to

Introduction

In my previous article, I explained that for some reason or other, Windows 7 did not want to maintain a connection to my wireless network even though computers running Windows XP and Vista didn’t seem to have any trouble. Ultimately, I discovered that if I unplugged one of my wireless access points, my connectivity problems went away.

Prior to solving my own Windows 7 wireless connectivity issues, I did quite a bit of research into possible causes of the problems. What I discovered was that there are a lot of people who have wireless connectivity problems with Windows 7, and that the solution is not always as simple as unplugging a redundant access point. That being the case, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some of the diagnostic techniques that can be used to diagnose Windows 7 wireless connectivity problems.

Before I Begin

Before I get started, I need to point out that I am making a few assumptions. First, I am assuming that your wireless network is functional, and that the problem exists with Windows 7. If you are having trouble with a first time wireless deployment, you might try using a known good PC running an older operating system to verify that you can establish connectivity to your access point before you work through everything that I am about to show you.

The other assumption that I am making is that the PC that is having the connectivity problems has the correct device driver for the wireless NIC. I am eventually going to be talking about wireless device drivers at some point in this series, but you might be able to save yourself a lot of heartache by taking a few minutes up front to make sure that you have the correct device driver. If you aren’t sure which driver you need, then I recommend contacting the PC manufacturer or visiting their Web site and looking up the make and model of the PC’s wireless NIC.

Checking the Basics

With that said, let’s get started by checking the basics. You should begin by closing any applications or other windows that you have open, as we don’t want anything to inadvertently interfere with the diagnostic process. After doing so, open the Control Panel and double click on the Network and Internet icon. Next, open the Network and Sharing Center and click on the Change Adapter settings link.

At this point, you should see a window that lists all of the network adapters that are installed in your PC. In most cases, there will be a wired, and a wireless adapter as shown in Figure A.


Figure A: You should see a listing for your wireless network adapter

Ultimately, whether or not you see a listing for the wired network adapter is irrelevant. It is the wireless adapter that really counts. If you don’t see your wireless network adapter listed, then this is the source of your connectivity problems.

There are several potential underlying causes for an unlisted wireless network adapter.  The most common causes involve an incorrect or missing device driver. As I said, I will be talking about device drivers a little bit later on.

The listing for the network adapter might also be missing if the network card is not enabled at the hardware level. If you are using a PC card, PCI card, or a USB based Wi-Fi card, then solving the problem might be as simple as making sure that your network adapter is plugged in tightly. If you are using a laptop with an integrated wireless NIC, then you should take a moment to make sure that the NIC has been turned on.

OK, I realize that right now some of you are probably screaming “How stupid do you think I am?” I’m certainly not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence. I just want to start with the basics before I move on to some of the more advanced troubleshooting techniques. Besides, I myself have fallen victim to a disabled wireless NIC.

I will never forget a situation that I ran into a few years ago. I was asked to do a consulting job in Asia. The only catch was that due to the nature of the job, I had to be on a plane the next day and I had to be gone for several weeks. One of the first things that I did after I got the phone call was to run to the electronics store and get a decent laptop. When I got home, I spent the rest of the day copying everything that I thought I might need for the project onto the laptop’s hard drive. Since my wired network was running at gigabit speeds, and I had a lot of files to copy to the laptop, I didn’t even bother trying to use the wireless connection.

When I got to my destination, I discovered that my wireless connection didn’t work. I tried everything that I could think of, but I just couldn’t seem to connect to the wireless network. Of course being 9,000 miles from home meant that calling for technical support or returning the laptop to the store wasn’t going to be an option.

One night, I was doing some work and needed to switch to a spare battery. I hit a switch on the bottom of the laptop that I thought would eject my battery. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it was really a switch to enable and disable the network adapter.

Almost all laptops have such a switch (or a button). The FAA does not allow Wi-Fi connections to be used on airplanes, so laptop manufacturers provide a switch that can be used to disable the adapter. However, every manufacturer puts the switch in a different place. I presently own five different laptops, and while they all have mechanisms for disabling the Wi-Fi connection, no two of the machines do it in the same way.

Just as a wireless NIC can be disabled through a switch or a button, it is also possible to enable or disable it through Windows. Keep in mind though, that in order for a wireless NIC to function, it must be enabled at both the hardware and at the operating system level.

With that said, watch what happens in Figure B when I right click on my wireless network adapter. As you can see in the figure, the shortcut menu contains an option to disable the adapter. When I disable the adapter, the wireless connection’s icon changes to reflect the fact that it has been disabled, as shown in Figure C. You can re-enable the connection by right clicking on it, and choosing the Enable option from the shortcut menu.


Figure B: You can disable a wireless connection by right clicking on it, and choosing the Disable option


Figure C: The connection’s icon changes to reflect the fact that it has been disabled.

Conclusion

In this article, I have tried to discuss the most basic causes of wireless network connectivity problems in Windows 7. In Part 3, I will begin turning my attention to connectivity issues that are related to Windows 7 configuration problems.

If you would like to read the other parts in this series please go to

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