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How to Minimize Wi-Fi Problems With the iPad

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I’ve only had the iPad (s aapl) since launch day, but I have logged hundreds of hours on the little slate. I have been exploring the device and its capabilities, along with determining how to best use its strengths. There have been reports from some iPad owners concerning problems with Wi-Fi connectivity, especially with some routers and mobile modems. I have seen those problems first-hand, and I have tested the iPad extensively to isolate Wi-Fi connectivity problems. I have determined the problems can be minimized with just a few simple steps. Note that I am not addressing the problems that have been reported by some universities that have prohibited the iPad from use on their networks.

The first problem I had with Wi-Fi on the iPad was exposed while using it with the Sprint (s s) Overdrive 3G/4G modem. This modem connects to the Sprint network and dishes the connectivity out over Wi-Fi. This would be the perfect solution for using the iPad over Wi-Fi to get mobile broadband connectivity. What I was immediately confronted with was the iPad was constantly disconnecting from the Sprint connection, and often having trouble reconnecting. The session would be working as it should and the iPad would suddenly disconnect and then I would have no connectivity at all.

I researched this and tested it and came to the conclusion that the iPad has a tendency to let the Wi-Fi connection go dormant very quickly. A brief lull in data transmission results in the iPad shutting the Wi-Fi down. This is probably by design and likely is an attempt to save on battery life, something the iPad is very good at doing. Unfortunately, while the iPad should automatically reconnect to the Wi-Fi network after such a dormancy, it wasn’t able to using the Sprint Overdrive modem.

I didn’t have this reconnect problem with any other router or network, just the Sprint Overdrive connection. That led me to do some investigation, and I determined that the Sprint Overdrive was using 64-bit WEP encryption for security on the Wi-Fi network connection. The iPad can handle this fine, but it was different than the newer (and better) WPA2 encryption used on all the other networks I use that had no problem reconnecting with the iPad.

I changed the Sprint Overdrive settings to WPA2, and the reconnect issue disappeared. Apparently the iPad was failing to reconnect properly over the WEP encryption, but it has no problem with WPA2. This matches what I see on other modems and routers, so I recommend changing it if you are having a similar problem with your iPad dropping connections and failing to renegotiate a reconnection. It’s easy to do and it worked for me; I haven’t seen a single failure to reconnect since making this change, and using two different Sprint Overdrive units.

The other problem I have encountered has to do with the Wi-Fi radio in the iPad. Let me set the scene for how I discovered this problem and the solution. The big comfy easy chair in my living room is as far from the router in my office as can be. The chair is right on the fringe of the range the router can dish out Wi-Fi, and out of all the mobile devices I have tested I’ve seen several that cannot see the network at all. Some get intermittent signal from the chair, and others none at all. It comes down to how powerful the Wi-Fi radio is in the given device, as that determines if it can see the network consistently.

The iPad is one of those devices that is right on the fringe of the ability to see the router from this spot in the house. This led me to do extensive testing to determine what factors under my control could minimize the bad signal strength the iPad reported, and thus get better bandwidth. In normal circumstances the iPad shows at most one bar on the Wi-Fi signal meter, and it occasionally drops the connection entirely.

My testing indicated that when I hold the iPad in portrait orientation in my two hands, like a book, the signal drops immediately. I can set the iPad in my lap with no hands holding it on the sides, and the signal meter immediately jumps to over 50% and the bandwidth increases accordingly. I verified this by running speed tests in a number of configurations. I can consistently set the iPad in my lap with no hands holding it, fire up the speed test, and see outstanding connection speeds from this remote location. If I do the same while holding it as a book, the speeds are abysmal, if the network is available at all.

I can run the speed test with the iPad in my lap, and after it starts running with fast connection speed I can pick it up and watch the speed drop to near nothing immediately. There is no question in my mind that holding the iPad in the hands interferes with the internal Wi-Fi radio somehow, and setting the device down is a simple solution. It is important to note that it is only holding the iPad in portrait mode that interferes with Wi-Fi. I can hold it in both hands in landscape orientation and the signal strength is not impaired. I’m not sure where in the iPad the Wi-Fi is physically located, but it must be near one of the sides in portrait orientation.

The iPad is a very small, slim gadget, and it doesn’t surprise me that Apple used what looks to be a low-power Wi-Fi radio. The point is now that you know how to maximize the network performance with the radio, you will get better results as I do.

So to recap, change your router settings to WPA2 if possible. This will minimize any problems the iPad has reconnecting after going dormant. How you hold the iPad can interfere with the Wi-Fi radio in fringe areas. If your signal strength goes really low and speed suffers, try setting the iPad down. You may see the signal meter jump back up, along with the connection speed.

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Hot Topic: Apple’s iPad

43 Responses to “How to Minimize Wi-Fi Problems With the iPad”

  1. Ipad is a useless product. If you just want to do a simple thing with it, like save PDF file, or connect to your home WEP enabled network – you have to search/google tons of pages and lengthy descriptions of other users, who had to struggle with the same.
    For example, where am I supposed to enter four WEP keys for my home network wifi? iPad promps for “password”, not the WEP keys.

  2. Derage

    I had issues with my iPad disconnecting, I have router that is g&b, no n and I can’t set different ssids as per apples suggestion…so I tried changing the channel on router away from the default which is 10. I’ve now set to 11 and have not had disconnect since…maybe it might work for others

  3. Jacque D

    I tried everything below to get my iPad and Sprint Overdrive to work without continually dropping the connection and making me put the password in every 2-3 minutes. Finally, I hard reset the Overdrive back to factory defaults, and set the security to the WPA2 as recommended and changed nothing else. Woo hoo! I’ve been up for over an hour now with no disconnects.

    • Brannon

      Don’t get too happy. Did the same thing and it worked fine for about 6 hrs then back to constant disconnects. Ive tried all of WPA2 options, set static IPs, upgraded to 02.06.06 firmware, soft reset, hard reset, even disabled security and used MAC filtering only. Still f***ing WiFi drops. The 3G signal remains strong at 80% or greater. Its not just on my iPad either, Wifi disconnect are just as prevelant on my laptop. Also notice it stays extremely warm to the touch. If anyone has a solution that works for more than one day I’d love to hear it.

  4. DR. Rey

    I tried the suggestion to “change your router settings to WPA2 if possible.” It worked on the two iPads in our house using a Belkin N+ router. However in this case it meant lower the security and authentication levels one notch above minimum and one notch below maximum.

    • WPA2 is more than safe enough. WEP is pretty easy to crack (speaking from experience), but WPA2 much better. AES encryption is (from a security point of view) better than TKIP, and if you are worried about having your WiFi broken into, use a good, long password. Read more on the subject at Wikipedia.

  5. Nameless

    WEP support is broken? That’s a shame. I’ll have to keep that in mind for my planned video reviews.

    If you’re wondering why I don’t use WPA or WPA2 instead, it’s because my original Nintendo DS simply doesn’t support anything above WEP, and I can’t justify replacing it with anything yet (waiting on the 3DS). My Palm Tungsten|C also would’ve been another such device if I hadn’t sold it already. There’s also an old PowerBook G3 I have lying around that can’t use anything above WEP because I only use Mac OS 9 on it. OS X will add WPA support, but it performs extremely poorly with only 256 MB of RAM and a 6 GB HDD. Upgrading those will cost more than I’d want to spend on a ten-year-old laptop.

    (If only routers could support multiple encryption levels at once…)

  6. I also tried both WPA2-Personal AES and WPA2 Personal TKIP/AES but I still get disconnects from my Sprint Overdrive to my iPad, I even went as far as removing the wifi security all together which also didn’t help one bit so it seems my connection issues as with many other peoples connection issues are not related to the routers security. Is there something I’m missing here, please help. Also If someone could explain how to set up a static ip that would be great.


  7. James,
    Great explanation. I have same issues with my ipad using with Sprint Overdrive. Now I see you said change my wifi router setting to use WPA2 instead 64-bit WEP. I went to the configuration page of my Sprint Overdrive and I see there are multiple WPA2 settings. Which one should I select?

    Also, I always keep my Sprint Overdrive device next to my ipad but get connection drop out frequently. Now do you still think holding ipad in portrait mode with my hands interferes wifi signals?

    Please advise.

  8. James, another thing I suggest is to use only WPA2 with ‘AES’ encription – not ‘TKIP’ or ‘AES+TKIP’. I recently tested a few different routers and this option costs the least in terms of wasted bandwidth (though I’ve yet to try this with an iPad).

  9. Dennis James

    Folks doesn’t this seem like something Apple should have worked out before selling them to people? This is a product that is supposed to be a mobile solution.

    Doesn’t sound like it’s much of a solution for people in their own homes where they have some control over wifi – after all you folks are dedicated geeks – what about NORMAL people who have purchased this?

    Take your mobile iPad outside and all bets are off concerning Wifi in coffee houses etal. Geeze just google Wifi and iPad for a look at how widespread this is.

    Apple – “A” for release and “D” for execution. Jobs should be totally embarassed. I’m surprised various cartoonists haven’t caught up to this as they did with the Newton’s handwriting recognition. :-)

  10. Interesting read. I’ve only just recently set up my own wifi network at home and have been reviewing some equipment from Netgear. While I don’t have an iPad to test, I haven’t had any problems connecting with my main notebook, and my signal is as strong as could be (full bars). True, my gear is in the same room, no walls in-between, within a four-foot distance.

    It would be great James if you could share the details of your network setup – the brand/model of router/modem/AP you have and a rough description of your layout might shed light on why your signal is not optimal.

  11. The iPad has two antennas. One is located right behind the black apple logo and is shielded such that it can only see out through the logo. The other is located to the left of the home button and due to the back of the unit can only see forwards through the lower left of the LCD.

    For fun you could try holding your iPad in portrait with just your right hand.

    Perhaps when you hold it in landscape you hold it with the home button on the left? This would put the “front” antenna in the upper left, away from your left hand.

    At home I’m using an Airport Express Dual Band base station with all three networks setup with different names. I also have it laid flat rather than standing on edge. It is mounted above head level.

    I’ve noticed at the office that putting the unit down flat over the metal drawers kills the Wifi. I think this is because the rear facing antenna is blocked. I keep the Overdrive above desk level by putting it in the top of my plastic paper tray stack, which seems to improve the Wifi bars on the iPad. The Joule stand has definitely helped me get more bars.

  12. Router Rooter

    Is your home router 802.11n with the “n” being most important. N-based routers have twice the range and bandwidth of the ancient G-based routers. Also using 5Ghz cuts through walls like butter compared to 2.4Ghz. Also 5Ghz has less packet re-transmits due to spectrum interferences. In addition for the home using a static IP will yield better results because DHCP has unnecessary overhead. Beware Apple DHCP software stack is known to be Bug City. Just some things to look at off the top of my head.

  13. I set all my devices as static IPs at home. I have zero issues with iPad dropping. Before I did this I would get drops. The network as a whole seems better.

    At the University I work at it’s based on DHCP and drops happen frequently. If it goes to sleep and wakes up problems start. The funny thing is we had two iPads fighting over the same IP address. The dropping WiFi is also more frequent later in the day than at 7am. Not as many devices connected.

    I haven’t tested anything too much but static IP seemed to help mine.

    • Your observations coincide with widespread reports of iPad wireless issues at various universities. The issue is related to DHCP and can be replicated, so a static IP ought to help until Apple issues a firmware solution.

    • Rick Huizinga

      I can confirm that using a static IP address resolves the WiFi connectivity issue. My iPad’s WiFi connection repeatedly dropped it’s connection and remained unconnected when it was configured for DHCP. Now that I have changed it to use a statically assigned address, the connection still occasionally drops but it always immediately reconnects making it feel like the connection is rock-solid.

  14. James,

    Your orientation observations suggest an antenna polarization issue, or that you have some unique signal reflections occuring in your test location. My assumption would be that the antenna is vertically polarized, which from a practical standpoint should mean when held in portrait mode it be optimally polarized (parallel to your APs antennae). Does your AP have external antennas and are they pointing straight up?

    That being said, Apple may have thought otherwise; given the use of multimedia being better suited for landscape mode, they may have implemented the antenna with horizontal polarization. I’m assuming the chassis would facilitate radiation out the back of the unit.

  15. Thanks for this, James, but I can report that I switched my MiFi setting to WPA over a week ago and have seen no noticeable improvement in my iPad’s tendency to drop connections. I’m still hoping for a firmware fix from Apple.

  16. The 802.11n WiFi/Bluetooth card is integrated into the dock connector cable, and Apple is using the Broadcom Chip # BCM4329XKUBG 802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and FM. The antennas are located right behind the Apple logo in the back of the iPad.