Can the iPad Come Out and Play?
Apple users tend to be very attached to their iPads, AppleTVs, iPhones & Macbooks for an intuitive, consistent interface. However, their number one complaint is either flaky or absent Wi-Fi when using Apple networking products like the Apple Airport Extreme, Apple Time Capsule, or Airport Express in their network.
Apple devices are meant to work well in their own contained ecosystem but when they enter the real world, they don’t necessarily play well with others. And while you can control this pretty easily at home, it is unlikely that everywhere you go will be using Apple friendly hardware. Fortunately, there are several ways of checking if the issue is fixable. The first thing you should do is check for Wireless Channels & Wireless Signal Interference.
Wireless Signal Interference
You may not know it, but placing your router next to the wrong household appliance could be the cause of your connection problems. Apple lists a large array of possible root causes of signal loss & possible wireless hindrances for iPads, AppleTVs etc that operate on the same band as wireless routers (2.4 GHz & 5 GHz) including:
- Microwave ovens (i.e. Using your microwave oven near your computer).
- 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz cordless telephones, baby monitors, digital cameras or wireless speakers.
- Direct Satellite Service (DSS): Coax cable and connectors used with certain types of satellite dishes may cause interference. Check cable damage and obtain newer cables if you suspect RF leakage.
- External Computer Monitors & LCD displays: Certain displays may emit harmonic interference, especially in the 2.4GHz band between channels 11 and 14. This interference would probably be at its worst if you have a portable computer with the lid closed and an external monitor connected to it. Try changing your access point to use 5 GHz or a lower 2.4 GHz channel.
How to Test for Wireless Interference/Channels
One excellent habit to get into if you are having signal issues and live in a high-density area is to use the free tool inSSIDer.
inSSIDer is an intuitive program that allows you to scan and see where all those wireless signals on your Internet Connection options menu are coming from and if they are conflicting with yours. You can also see the strength of your own network in comparison to those around you.
As you can see, there are a lot of wireless signals around me. I live in a highly populated area (in lovely suburban New Jersey) inside a cluster of houses and across the street from a 5-floor apartment building. There are tons of wireless signals and SSIDs, and plenty of interference on all wireless channels. Oftentimes it is hard for me to even find an open channel, so if I am having signal issues, I just try switching them up
The wireless signal transmission options in the US for the 2.4 GHz standard wireless band are 1, 6, and 11. These signals vary from country to country. Wikipedia has a highly technical page that goes into an in-depth analysis of wireless signals.
Most routers have a wireless channel option of Auto. However, if you leave the router on for an extended period time without rebooting, it may not be constantly checking for the best channel, but rather only checking for the best channel at the time the router loads. This is one of the reasons why rebooting your router seems to magically fix many common issues.
Mobile Wi-FI Scanning Apps & Using Wireless-N Properly
If you want to scan wireless signals, wireless channels and interference on the go, we recommend the excellent and also free WiFi Analyzer app for Android, iPad or iPhone that you can see below.
Sadly, my laptop does not have a 5 GHz WiFi signal but my new Samsung Galaxy III does and you can see the difference in signal clarity. I’m all alone up HERE!
OSGU3 is an ISP router that is in Mixed Wireless Mode to accommodate other WiFi users with older devices in my home that do not have Wireless-N capabilities. If all your devices are on Wireless-N and you do not have to capitulate to the slow Wireless-G speeds, changing your Wireless Network mode from Mixed to N-Only will likely give a signal boost.
With my DD-WRT router, I can also view and tweak the options of each signal and have decided to capitalize on this 5 GHz opening by making this a Wireless-N only signal, thereby allowing it to transmit at its highest capacity.
The issue with 5 GHz is that its signal distance is not as great. 5 GHz is preferred for streaming unencumbered wireless video at closer distances. If you will be working in a good proximity to your router most of the time with an iPad or later version iPhone but can’t plug in, using a Dual Band router and tweaking its 5 GHz settings may solve the problem. If you are having a poor Netflix experience with you AppleTV or Roku, switching the signal to the 5 GHz band on a DD-WRT router could do the trick.
DD-WRT is a router based firmware upgrade that improves signal stability and performance. It also has many advanced features that don’t usually come with a router such as Repeater/Client Bridge modes, OpenVPN server/client options and a whole lot more. To learn more about upgraded options that come with the DD-WRT firmware upgrade, check out our Intro to DD-WRT.