Get help with real-world Wi-Fi hassles, from dead spots and security threats to media-streaming hiccups
Networks are fantastic when they hum along behind the scenes, but all too often they fail. When your printer disappears or your Skype calls break up every time your partner watches YouTube, it's time to get your geek on and learn what makes your network tick.
Here, then, are some tried-and-tested strategies – as well as some new tricks for wireless veterans – to help you make your network behave.
Nail the basics
By far the most common network problems involve disappearing internet connections, printers and PCs. Lost connections can generally be solved by rebooting your broadband modem, network router or computer. But if you have to do this repeatedly, your router and PC settings are probably the culprits.
Start by extending to at least a week your router's DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) lease time – the time the router reserves an IP address for a device on the network. You can access this setting via
your router's browser-based firmware.
If disconnects are affecting a laptop, check the power-management setting for its network adaptor. In Windows XP, right-click My Computer, then select Properties. Go to the Hardware tab and click Device Manager. In the Network Adapters area, find your adaptor and again select Properties.
Under Power Management, untick the box that turns off the adaptor when power-saving kicks in. Battery life may be slightly reduced but you'll have a stable network connection.
DNS (domain name system) services are another factor that can contribute to lost connections. DNS servers are the PCs on which your ISP stores the databases that it uses to translate individual URLs into their corresponding numerical IP addresses. If you receive messages that web pages can't be found or email can't be retrieved, try using the DNS servers at opendns.com.
Start by accessing the WAN (wide area network) settings in your router's browser-based firmware. Then change the IP addresses for DNS to 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52. OpenDNS is free and it blocks known phishing sites.
For more information on network security, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.