One of the most common problems internet users face is their router disconnecting every few minutes.
If your WiFi connection is frequently turning off, or seeming to phase in and out, this sequence of steps will usually solve the problem.
Notice: this guide is for "the rest of us," not techies
This article is for non-techies, and I assume zero familiarity with networking in this article. If you consider yourself tech-friendly, this article is likely too basic for you.
Summary of router troubleshooting sequence
In this guide, I’ll cover each topic in the order of likelihood that it’s the culprit:
- Router reset: 90% of the time this fixes basic problems.
- Isolating issue to device: sometimes the issue is the laptop, modem, or internet connection itself. We need to isolate the issue before assuming it’s the WiFi router specifically.
- Basic tech support: I’ll walk you through beginner-friendly adjustments that usually fix frequent router shut-offs.
- Advanced tech support: I’ll include some advanced tips, but the majority of readers should stop and call tech support before attempting these.
- Router replacement: If the router is very old, it often simply needs to be replaced. I’ll walk you through the steps to select a replacement.
If at any point you feel overwhelmed, considering calling your internet provider or a tech support company. Most internet providers will offer (limited) free tech support over the phone.
How to fix 90% of WiFi issues: Reset the router
The first thing to do is the easiest thing to do: reset the router by turning it off and then back on again.
(This isn’t a factory reset, which we’ll get to just a little bit later.)
Just switch it off and then unplug the power cord from the back. Wait for 20 seconds and then plug it back in switch it on.
If you can’t find a power button on the device, it’s fine to just unplug it. Some routers don’t have any power buttons and will simply start up when plugged in.
Keep an eye on the lights on the front. When they stabilize and turn green, you should be able to use the WiFi again. Go ahead and turn off the WiFi on your laptop or phone and turn it back on again as well, just to be sure everything “starts fresh.”
Isolate your WiFi issue to determine where the problem is
The next step if you’re still having frequent WiFi cut-offs is to determine if the issue is being cause by the WiFi router, or another part of the chain between the internet connection, your modem, and your computer.
Quick definition of terms:
- Internet Connection: this is the internet service provided by your internet provider, which enters your house via the cable connected to your modem or router.
- Modem: this is the “translator” device that turns the signal from your ISP into digital signals that can be translated by your computer.
- WiFi Router: this is the “traffic control” device that connects the internet connection to your devices, wirelessly, within your home.
Note: Modems and routers are often combined into one device these days. If you lease your equipment from your internet provider, it’s very likely you have a “combo” device that serves both functions.
1. Rule out your laptop as the issue
Sometimes it’s your laptop, not the WiFi, that is cutting off. To check, try connecting your phone or another laptop to the WiFi network.
note that when connecting a phone to WiFi, you should disable its cellular connection to make sure it’s not falling back on the mobile network.
If you see the same problem, then the issue is the WiFi. If you don’t, your computer is likely having an issue with its WiFi card, or may be overheating. In any case, restarting your laptop, tablet, or whatever device you’re having issues with will usually fix it.
2. Rule out your internet provider as the issue
Sometimes the issue causing repeating shut-offs is your internet connection, not the router. This can be tricky to prove, depending on if you have a modem and router, or a “combo” modem/WiFi unit.
If you have a dedicated modem and router, try plugging your laptop directly to the modem via ethernet. If the problem stops, this means the issue is certainly your router. If it continues, the issue is either the modem or your internet service itself.
If you have a modem/router combo unit, this won’t work. You can still plug into the router with ethernet to the router and see if the problem persists. If it goes away, this means the issue is likely with the WiFi broadcast on your router. You’ll likely need to do a factory reset.
Basic tech support for router turning off repeatedly
If you’re still with me, it means the above either didn’t work or don’t apply to your situation. Try these simple tricks before you call in a professional:
1. Check The Temperature Of The Router
If that’s not working, the next thing to do is to switch everything on and then come back in about 15 minutes and feel the temperature of the router. If it’s very hot to the touch then it may be switching off the connection to reduce the internal temperature — exactly like it’s supposed to, to avoid destroying the hardware inside.
This is a very common problem, especially in hotter countries, and the solution is fairly straightforward: you can either move the router to somewhere that’s less hot or you can put it under a fan or some other form of cooling device.
Locations that are good for keeping a router cool:
- Out of direct sunlight
- Out of a constricted space such as a cupboard
- Near an AC unit or fan
Locations that are likely to overheat a router:
- In direct sunlight
- In a cupboard, closet, or other tight space
- Next to another device that might be generating heat
2. Clean vents on the router
Even if the router isn’t hot to the touch, difficulty cooling is one of the most common issues I’ve seen with older routers. It’s worth wiping down the device with a dry cloth, and using compressed air (or even just blowing on it) to remove dust and crust from vents and holes in the plastic shell of the router.
3. Check the power supply
Most routers and modems will have a power supply adaptor “brick” on the cable connecting it to the outlet. Is it hot to the touch after being plugged in a half hour or so?
If so, good news: the problem may be your power supply. If the adaptor is overheating, it may be causing your whole router to shut off periodically, explaining the problem with your WiFi.
A corner store or hardware store should be able to sell you a replacement for this, just bring it to them so they can see exactly what kind to give you.
Advanced tech support for router shutting off repeatedly
If the above didn’t work, I honestly recommend that you call tech support before proceeding. The issues with routers vary widely based on factors like the make and model, how old it is, the internet service you have, devices on your network, and more.
Skip to the bottom of this article, where I’ve compiled tech support lines for the most common Internet providers in California. Almost all of them offer free tech support as part of your service, and will even do free site visits if the issue is with the equipment they supplied you.
However, if for some reason you cannot get live support — go ahead and try the following:
1. Factory Reset The Router
OK, still not there? Then it might be time to factory reset the router itself. Somewhere on the router there will be a button marked reset. You’re going to need to push and hold this button until the router starts to cycle like it has just been turned on.
You may need to reinstall the drivers for the router at this point and set up password access again depending on the specific device. You’ll need to check in your router’s handbook as to how to do this – there are thousands of different models of router out there and each one will handle differently in these circumstances.
To find model-specific instructions, Google search for the the model name printed on the back or front of the device, plus the text: “reset guide.” Try to go to the manufacturer’s website, not a third party or forum post.
2. Check Your Network Card
It is possible that the network card in your desktop or laptop is the cause of the problems with the router and there are three things that you can do that might help get things back on track. (actually it’s also possible that the electronic equivalent of a network card is a problem in a smartphone but there’s not much you can do about it if it is)
You can reset the TCP/IP settings, you can reinstall the drivers that operate the network card, and if you have a desktop PC you can also try re-placing the network card.
3. Reset Your TCP/IP Settings
The internet protocol is the system used by the internet as addresses to send data to and from. Sometimes, for whatever reason – the TCP/IP settings on a PC can become confused and this will prevent your machine connecting effectively to the internet via the router or it may cause it to constantly connect and then disconnect.
If you have a Windows PC then you can easily reset the TCP/IP settings.
- You need to hold the Windows Key + R at the same time. This will open up the command prompt/run Window.
- You should type:
netsh int ip reset resetlog.txt
- This will then reset the settings.
- Then you need to restart your computer before you do anything else.
This is much easier than deleting and reinstalling the TCP/IP protocols which is the other way to achieve the same results.
- On a MAC you click the Apple Icon in the top right hand corner of your screen.
- Then when the drop down appears, you pick “System Preferences”
- Select Network
- Select your Internet Connection and then select Advanced
- Select TCP/IP and then Select Renew DHCP Lease
- Select OK
4. Reinstall The Drivers For The Network Card
Drivers are the software that tells your computer how to use a given device. There was a time when device drivers came on a handy disk or CD rom in the box that they came with. Sadly, this isn’t that time and you will need an internet connection to get the drivers for your network card.
If you can get online, download the drivers for your card and then simply install them on the computer you are using. It’s important to make sure that you have the exact drivers for the network card on your device as installing the wrong ones may deactivate your network card (don’t worry – installing the right drivers will fix that, it’s not permanent) or reduce the overall functionality of the card.
With laptops this may be very easy as the network card drivers tend to be supplied as part of a driver support package from the laptop manufacturer.
Hopefully, once you’ve installed the network card drivers again, it will start functioning in an optimal manner and you’ll be online.
5. Desktop? Try Re-placing The Network Card
Finally, at least on the subject of network cards, if you have a desktop or tower style computer – you might want to open up the box and just make sure that the network card is firmly attached to the motherboard.
If you can’t tell or it’s loose. Remove the card and then re-place it and make sure you can feel it slide into the slot tightly. Sometimes, over time, cards either gently walk out of their slot as they get hot and cold or you knock the case of your computer and dislodge them.
Of course, you should always make sure that you are earthed, and the computer is fully disconnected from a power supply prior to doing this task.
6. Run Your Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Scans
By now, we’re starting to clutch at straws, but it is possible that there’s a virus or malware on your device that’s interfering with the network connection.
Fortunately, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to run your antivirus and your anti-malware software to scan your machine and deal with any problems that it finds. If you don’t have this software already – then you really need to get some.
You don’t need to spend any money on this. IBM PC users can get Avast! Antivirus and MalwareBytes for free to carry out these tasks. Apple and Android users will need to check their app stores to see what’s available for them.
7. Consider A Windows Rollback
There is also an outside chance that your software is creating the problem. Windows users can create what’s known as a “rollback” point on their device. This allows them to reset their computer to a specific date.
This rollback does not delete any files you have created yourself, but it removes all applications installed between the date of the rollback point and the current date. So, your documents, spreadsheets, photographs, etc. are all safe.
Of course, in order to rollback on a Windows device, you have to set a rollback point in the first place. If you have done this, great. If not, the only rollback point available may be from the day you switched the machine on – that’s a fairly extreme position to fallback to. So, you might want to leave that until you’ve tried our last two solutions.
8. Pause Your Antivirus Software/Firewall Software
Very occasionally that lovely anti-virus software that we come to rely on or the firewall that we use is the problem. It picks up an erroneous instruction and runs with it. So, to test if they are the problem – you want to pause the antivirus and the firewall.
We should note that if you do this, you want to test your device only with the safest sites while they are paused. So, feel free to check your mail and use Facebook but try not to do much general browsing until you have anti-virus and firewall back in place.
If it does turn out to be these pieces of software, you should uninstall them and reinstall them to reset them. If that doesn’t work. You might want to consider uninstalling them and replacing them with an alternative software which does the same job.
Under no circumstances, should you try and run a computer or a smartphone without anti-virus or a firewall for the long-term, it’s a question of when rather than if you will regret doing so.
When all else fails: Router Replacement
Well, apart from one other source of potential problems for internet connection issues – we’ve run out of things to try. At this point, it seems highly likely that your router is the problem. If it’s under warranty, you might want to see if you can get it looked at or replaced.
If not, you may need to buy a new router. It’s worth contacting your ISP to see if they have one they recommend or whether yours is old enough to qualify for a replacement. If not, you can buy a new router cheaply and easily on Amazon.
A Problem Outside Of Your Control? Radio Interference
The final source of router problems is difficult to diagnose. It is possible that there are other radio based devices that are interfering with the signal on your router.
This is really unlikely to cause a repeated cutoff issue, and more common when general slow-downs are the complaint. However, it’s worth trying relocating the router within your environment to see if there are places in the home where it operates in a more consistent fashion.
However, I’d say that it’s very unlikely that this is the case and all the other potential problems on our list are more likely to be the source of your issue.
Tech support contacts for Internet Providers in California
- Spectrum tech support: (833) 267-6094
- AT&T Internet tech support: 800-288-2020
- Xfinity tech support: 1-800-XFINITY
- Frontier tech support: 1-800-921-8106
- Sonic tech support: (707) 547-3400
- Starry internet tech support: (888) 231-9403