Why Is WiFi Less Stable Year by Year?

I swear that WiFi overall as a technology is less and less stable every year. Back when it was only 802.11b, I don’t remember having nearly as many problems as I have lately. I’ve owned D-Link, Belkin, Netgear and Linksys routers – all have been replaced in my hunt for a fast, stable router that works with all of my equipment. The past month or so has been particularly hair-pulling; I’ve been in wireless router hell.

A couple of weeks ago my still-quite-new D-Link 802.11n router (a DIR-655) flaked out on me. I spent an hour thinking it was my cable modem, eventually narrowed it down to the router, then wasted an hour on the phone jumping through D-Link tech support hoops just so I could get an RMA and get the router exchanged. It took talking to three techs before they’d admit there was a hardware problem with the router. From the beginning the router had compatibility problems with my wife’s iPAQ 1950, even with the latest firmware on both devices. It’s embarrassing in a geeky way when my wife has to Exchange sync over WiFi at work because the home network is never functioning. I bought the iPAQ 1950 to replace the previous iPAQ that had trouble connecting over WiFi, hoping that the newer model would be more compatible with modern WiFi. It’s not. I don’t believe the compatibility problems are due to a hardware failure – I think the DIR-655 just has poor compatibility with WiFi devices, which is a common issue I’ve seen with routers over the past two years.

I then switched to my backup router, also a D-Link (DI-624). It kept dropping my connections, both wired and wireless, so I swore I’d never buy another D-Link router. I went out and bought a Belkin 802.11n router, another brand I’ve had trouble with in the past and never wanted to buy again – but there are only so many choices on the market. The Belkin router worked perfectly when I swapped it into place, but now my Fujitsu P7020 laptop running Windows XP refuses to connect to it regardless of which mode I put it in (WPA, WEP, no security, 802.11n/g, or 802.11g). The HTC Touch won’t connect to it either – it can’t even see the network. The AT&T Tilt locked up the Wireless Manager trying to connect to it, so I reset it. Trying to even remove the wireless network setting locks up the wireless manager on the Tilt. When I did manage to get it to connect to the Belkin router and prompt me for the WPA password, it would try to connect for a few seconds, then come back and show me a list of networks again. My Dell XPS M1330 can connect to the Belkin router if it’s in 802.11g/n mode, but not if it’s in 802.11g only mode. I’m in wireless hell.

The ultimate frustration here is that whenever I can’t get wireless working properly and I’m in desperate need of a connection, I always connect to a neighbour’s unsecured network called “default” – and almost every device can connect to it (the Tilt can’t however). I’m tempted to go knocking on some local doors to see who’s router it is, and ask if I can buy it – because clearly whatever old, unsecured hardware they’re using is superior to all the modern, expensive routers that I keep buying.