Few first world problems are as frustrating as your web browser reporting that it’s no longer connected to the internet. There are many different problems that could potentially affect your broadband, but the tips below should be enough to cover the most common issues.
Keep this list close by in case your internet suddenly breaks (or bookmark it to send to friends and family the next time they call you for help).
It’s an IT troubleshooting cliché, but that’s because it often works. Resetting your router (or cable box or modem or any other device that brings the internet into your home) should clear away any temporary connection faults and bugs, forcing the device to reconnect to the web from scratch with a clean slate.
Most routers have a reset button on them for this specific purpose, but you can always unplug the hardware as well. Wait 30 seconds or so before restarting the device and then give it (and your computer) a few minutes to get up and running again. Internet fixed? Good, you can stop reading here.
If rebooting your router doesn’t work, the next step is to determine whether the problem’s inside or outside of your home. A quick way of doing this is to see if your smartphone, tablet, or any other computers can get online. If they can, plug a laptop directly into the router using a spare Ethernet cable.
If none of your devices can get online, there might be a problem on your ISP’s end. Check out its official website and Twitter feed to see if there’s a problem currently being reported (using cellular data, of course), or call them to see if they can offer an estimate on when a fix will arrive.
Not everyone has a laptop and Ethernet cable at home, but if you do, you can plug the laptop directly into the router to check if the problem is with your internet as a whole (see above) or the wifi in particular. There are all kinds of ways to improve the wifi in your home, but they don’t necessarily apply to a sudden and unexplained drop.
If your wifi was working but isn’t anymore (and the problem persists across multiple devices) then pinpointing the problem is tricky. You should check your router’s settings for clues, reverse any recent modifications to the network, and more sure no one in the house has changed the network password.
If wired internet connections are working but wifi ones aren’t on any device, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher, unless your router has suddenly developed a fault. If you’ve just decided to put a wireless device like a baby monitor or a microwave next to your router, then this could be one potential cause—you really need to put wireless devices like these as far apart as possible to avoid signal interference.
Heavy bandwidth use by one particular device might drag the internet connection speed down, but then you’d probably see the effect on a wired connection, too. Using a speed test site or app might give you some more clues as to what’s causing the wifi to slow down or drop completely.
If only one of your devices can’t get online, the focus of your troubleshooting can be much narrower, and it should be easier to find a fix. Resetting the device in question often works wonders; forcing a reconnection with the router and device can iron out plenty of temporary problems.
You should make sure that the device is updated and running the latest version of its operating system. On computers, that applies to wifi adapter firmware as well. If necessary, uninstall and reinstall the drivers associated with your wifi hardware to make sure they’re functioning correctly.
If you’re troubleshooting a laptop or desktop, then a virus scan is worth trying, and both Windows and macOS include wireless diagnostic tools that can help you pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong.
Trying a different web browser can sometimes help—it’s possible that an extension, plug-in, or browser bug is the root cause of your internet hang-ups. If you find that your browser’s at fault, uninstall and then reinstall it to force a complete reset of the software (more on that here).
In this case, we’re specifically concerned with a device that was getting online fine before but now isn’t, so a recent change is most likely to blame. Try uninstalling any recently added apps, particularly network-related ones such as VPNs. As a last resort, you can try factory resetting the device.
Resetting your connection to your router can sometimes help. Try ‘forgetting’ the network you’re connected to and then connecting again (Network & Internet in Settings on Windows; Network in System Preferences on macOS). This will at least make sure you’re trying to connect to the right wifi network.
Switching to a different wifi channel can sometimes improve connection speeds if your home is in a crowded space (perhaps in a building with apartments surrounding yours). Routers normally put you on the best channel automatically—it’s basically the frequency at which your internet signals are beamed through space—but if several nearby routers choose the same one, then everything can get a little congested.
You’ll need to dig into your router settings to find the option to change channels. Usually switching to a channel several numbers removed from your current one is best, as it avoids overlap. If you need help, an app like NetSpot can warn you about congestion and help you take the next steps.
Some routers, particularly newer and more expensive ones, will do this job for you. They’ll find the channel with the least interference and make sure you’re on it (check the user documentation if you’re not sure). Nevertheless, it’s another potential fix to be aware of.
Keeping the software and firmware for all of your devices up-to-date can prevent internet issues.
If you think the problem could be related to hackers (neighbors who want to sip your connection for free, perhaps), then head to your router’s settings and change the wifi password. Your router’s manual should have a guide to follow if you aren’t sure how to do this. That means every device will have to reconnect to the router again from scratch, using the new password.