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.

  • I’ve been using a Belkin N1 router for the last few months and it has been fine, as long as I have the 802.11n functionality disabled. With it on I get terrible connection problems with my MacBook Pro.

    http://www.geardiary.com/2007/04/08/belkin-n1-wireless-router-and-expresscard-review/

  • And I agree with you, I don’t remember having this much trouble with my first WiFi router, a Belkin 802.11b, several years ago.

  • I’ve been using a Linksys WRT54GL with the DD-WRT firmware for a couple years now. The only time it goes down is during power outages when I turn off the UPS that powers the router, switches, and NAS box in the house. Last time I remember looking, it had been up for 73 days. I actually bought two WRT54GLs so that if something fries this one I have a spare that I can install in its place, loading the saved configuration from the current one. 802.11n is way too flaky at this time for my tastes, and for my uses is overkill anyway. I’m not streaming HD video, I’m just browsing and processing e-mail on my Tablet PC, or listening to music that’s stored on the NAS box in the basement.

    I really feel sorry for consumers who don’t know what they’re doing. If WE have problems with this stuff, imagine a relative novice. It’s no wonder there are so many wide open, unsecured wireless LANs virtually everywhere you go.

  • Lots of awesome feedback from all over the place – the WRT54GL is a router I had at one point, but I never did the DD-WRT firmware. It looks quite intimidating – anything done by Linux geeks is usually horrible and hard to use. Maybe I’ll give it another shot…