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When using a WLAN connection, what causes my laptop to slow connectivity and even disconnect?

When using a WLAN connection, what causes your laptop to slow connectivity and even disconnect? Our WLAN expert, Stephen Kim, answers in detail.

My laptop uses a WLAN connection and I connect when I use it at home to my Linksys router. When I start using the Internet, my connectivity is 54 Mbps during my connection. Then my connectivity drops from 54 to 1.1 Mbps and makes my system slow and sometimes disconnects me from my router. What causes this?
There could be many reasons. First, if you have 54 Mbps, then you are in a good location. Why does the client/AP data rate drop down? Basically because it's the 802.11 protocol -- it will start at a high data rate and if it gets dropped packets, it will drop down to a lower one and so on until it gets through. Getting 54 Mbps tells me that in general its good, so what changes make it drop down in the environment? Environmental reasons could be any of the following:
  1. Is someone opening/closing doors affecting the signal path?
  2. Is something turning on ( for example, a microwave or 2.4 GHz cordless telephone)?
  3. Do you have a neighbor on the same channel? Look for other APs in your client or use netstumbler -- if you see another AP on the same channel, move it to an unused one: 1, 6 or 11.
  4. Lastly, and probably most likely, a flakey wireless card on the PC; if all else fails, try a new one/different brand.
This was last published in January 2007

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