SMB - Getting home wireless to work

I have a laptop that I have tried connecting to my new home cable network. Everything is connected but I can not even see my router on my laptop. HELP!! This is frustrating because a few weeks ago I had it on the road and it worked fine on the hotel's wireless and it worked fine on the company's wireless, but I cannot get it to work at home. Can you please give me some suggestions?-- Kevin Patterson

This is a problem that seems to happen more than you would expect what with recent improvements to both Windows and the software provided by laptop OEMs to make the wireless experience easier. To find the problem, you will want to go through a process of elimination. Keep in mind that the final solution may need require more than one change to fix the problem.

First, disable any firewall software on the laptop. Some of the more advanced firewalls "learn" the network they are connecting to and as a result may lock you out of your own network. If you have a third-party firewall installed, make sure that you disable it - and make sure the Windows supplied firewall is disabled as well. Just as with anti-virus software, if more than one of these is enabled on the same machine, connectivity problems can happen that weren't there before.

Also, disable the third-party software that may be on the laptop that "helps" you configure the wireless access; then re-enable the Windows Zero Configuration service if it has been disabled.

Now that you are at this point, you should be able to use the Site Survey function that is available with most wireless drivers to see nearby wireless access points. If you don't see any, download a copy of NetStumbler, which should be able to get past this problem and let you see if the problem is at a lower level.

Look at the DHCP settings on the wireless card to make sure you are setup for DHCP for both the IP address and for DNS settings. If you are set up for DHCP, try using a static IP address, subnet mask and default gateway close to what your access point hands out but just outside of that range. This will help show if the AP itself is the problem. If you have encryption currently running on the AP, temporarily turn it off and see if you have better luck at attaching to the AP.

See if the OEM that made your laptop has released newer wireless-card drivers. Either upgrading from the currently installed drivers or uninstalling the current drivers and then installing the updated drivers might also address what could be a driver related problem.

Somewhere in the steps I have walked you through, you should have a working wireless setup and have identified the problem. If you don't, it wouldn't hurt to disable the built-in wireless card and plug in a USB wireless card to see if you have a problem with the built-in card and/or drivers. If your laptop has a hardware switch instead of a software switch to disable the wireless card, try toggling that switch back and forth a few times to see if that is causing your wireless card problem.

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Ron Nutter

Network World
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