Troubleshooting AirPort and Mac Wi-Fi problems

Got to admit it we’re addicted to ‘Net

Apple, OS X, iOS, Mac, iPhone, AirPort, Wi-Fi, wireless, troubleshooting
Credit: Jonny Evans

Many of us are addicted to the extent that we get depressed and moody if we go without it. What are we addicted to? The attention-grabbing Internet, that’s what, and keeping our wireless network in good shape is critical to the way we live today, at work and at play.

[Also read: ‘WWDC 2016: 9 OS X rumors everyone’s talking about’]

The symptoms:

Web sites and emails are taking forever to download; video and TV shows are stuttering, online communication you know is coming in your direction isn’t reaching the in-box, and/or using AirDrop to share files between the Macs on your network is taking an age. You’ve even done the right thing and made sure you’re running the latest software on all the devices you keep on your network, but still you got problems. What should you do?

Turn it off and on

Sometimes the quickest fix is to just turn AirPort off on your Macs and devices for a few moments and then turn it on again. On a Mac you do this using the AirPort menu bar, or using Control Center on iOS devices (there are other ways, but those are the quickest to find).

Reset the router

If the steps here don’t resolve your problem the first thing your ISP’s tech support crew will ask you to do is to reset the router. That’s just a complicated way to say switch the router off and then switch it on again, so why not try it now before you call them up?

Reset everything

In my opinion the fastest way to resolve 99% of almost every common iOS or OS X problem is to restart all your device(s). Wireless networks are no exception, and almost without fail you’ll see improvement if you switch off all your kit, including your AirPort unit and broadband modem and router, leave it a few minutes and then switch it all on again in this order: Modem, Router; AirPort unit; Macs and other devices.

Change the channels

You’ve reset everything and things still don’t seem right? It’s possible that network interference is the problem. There are several potential causes for this but the main culprit is usually neighboring networks on the same “channel” as your own. To get a look at that, Option-click on the Wi-Fi icon in your Menu bar and select "Open Wireless Diagnostics in the drop-down menu that appears. Next you should open the Utilities Window via the Menu bar (Command-4). The first thing to check is what channel your network is on in comparison with other networks in your area. If you find you are sharing a channel with others nearby, it helps to change the channel on your router to one the other networks aren't using. You can use this tool to assess signal strength and help assess the quality of your network over time, as explained here.

Change security

Sometimes changing the security protocol you use, from WPA/WPA2 to WPA2/WPA seems to resolve wireless connection difficulties.

Startup check

It is possible the Mac is the problem, so restart it while holding down Option-D, which launches Apple’s hardware test to uncover any hardware problems on the Mac.

Disk Utility

The Disk Utility app (Applications>Utilities) is Apple’s Swiss Army knife for most problems. If the Mac you are working with just doesn’t seem “right”, you should launch Disk Utility and “Verify Disk Permissions” and/or “Verify Disk”. If problems are found with Disk Permissions you can fix these using this app, but you cannot fix the startup app, for this you’ll need to start in Recovery Mode (Command-R). Lots more information on Disk Utility here.

PRAM, NVRAM etc

Reboot your Mac while you hold Command+Option+P+R during restart. You should hear a second chime after which you can let go and allow the Mac to boot up. And/or rest the SMC as explained here.

Rebuild the network

Reset your AirPort router(s) and use AirPort Utility to create a new wireless network, you will then need to link all your Macs and devices to the new network.

If none of these steps work, you may need to spend quality time on the phone listening to the appalling music played while you wait for your ISP’s tech support department to pick up the phone.

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