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Some iPad Users Suffer Wi-Fi Woes

In what may be a technical misstep with the first iPads, many owners are reporting trouble in getting and retaining a strong Wi-Fi signal with their devices, even in places where other Apple and non-Apple hardware connect fine. A long discussion thread is in progress at Apple's site, and has received over 70,000 views and 500 messages so far.

We're normally quite conservative about reporting hardware troubles at TidBITS, because there's no way to know what percentage of users are afflicted. However, even aside from the fact that some TidBITS staffers are seeing wonky Wi-Fi behavior, the volume of reports here is high enough, detailed enough, and widespread enough that it's clear something is awry.

There appear to be four common problems, which may or may not be related:

  • Users see a fluctuating or single bar of Wi-Fi signal strength displayed on the iPad in an area where other devices, including iPhones, have no trouble picking up a strong and consistent signal.
  • The iPad drops off the Wi-Fi network repeatedly, interrupting network communication.
  • Throughput varies continuously between slow and high rates.
  • The iPad prompts for a Wi-Fi network password to a network it has already joined successfully with a password.

A fifth problem that I've seen fewer accounts of involves Wi-Fi network disruptions when laying the iPad flat on a table or other surface.

For one specific problem, where the iPad repeatedly drops off a network and then reconnects, some users found that disabling the Ask to Join option in the Wi-Fi network setup kept a consistent connection, while others did not. Still others tried restarting all their network hardware, which seemed to eliminate all the problems cited above... but typically only for a short period of time.

Apple posted a technical support note that addresses common Wi-Fi connection problems, but it appeared on the day the iPad shipped and although it's full of general, useful advice, it doesn't specifically address the particular problems users are reporting.

Several days later, Apple posted a new iPad support note that refers to one potential problem related to simultaneous dual-band base stations made by other firms - that is, base stations that can deliver Wi-Fi over the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands at the same time. These devices create two separate networks, one in each band, just like Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule network appliance.

If the non-Apple base station's networks are set to have the same name but use different security methods, the iPad can fail to rejoin the network after restart or waking from sleep. Apple advises either making the security method and encryption key the same, or naming the two networks on the same base station differently. (This is in fact Apple's bug - the iPad should be recording the network's underlying unique ID, not its network name, to associate with the security type and stored key.)

The iPad ships with iPhone OS 3.2, which is not yet available for the iPhone or iPod touch, and it's possible that some changes or enhancements in this release are to blame. I expect we'll see 3.2.1 quickly if the problems are as extensive as they appear.


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Comments about Some iPad Users Suffer Wi-Fi Woes
(Comments are closed.)

I have these same exact issues with my iPhone 3G, so my guess is that it's not hardware related, but rather software related. And software related going back to the latest version of iPhone OS that the iPhone has available.
I had the constant asking for password problem with a two-year old MacBook. I bought an AirPort Extreme to replace the Verizon router which largely solved the problem. However, my 3GS looses the connection when five-feet from the AirPort.
lawrence Matus  2010-04-06 13:20
My Wi Fi times out in 30 sec. or cannot download after a short time. Takes 4 or 5 times to work. I hit the address bar again and some time it seems to work.
Hope a fix is soon here
Daffyd K Jones  2010-04-06 15:08
A sixth problem which you haven't mentioned is being heavily discussed on the Apple support forums. When you put the iPad to sleep, and then wake it up after 30seconds or more, the WiFi connection is lost, and you need to switch it completely off and on again to reconnect.
I was experiencing this particular manifestation. Turning off the display Auto-Brightness cured it 100% of the time.
I have massive problems with the wifi on my Apple TV. A agree with the other poster that there is some deeper problem with Apple's wifi stack.
I am seeing issues with ABC and Netflix when trying to stream video. I need to reboot the device in order to get it back to work like i want it. I hope they have a fix soon.
Judy Jack  2010-04-12 20:47
I'm enjoying 100% connect time with my iPad Wi-Fi. I wonder how much has to do with the strength of the signal and the location of the router.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-04-12 20:49
I haven't had this problem, but folks reporting it are sometimes standing a few feet with unimpeded line of sight to the router, watching the signal strength go up and down, up and down.
Bob LeBailly  2010-04-13 14:38
I'm seeing a similar problem on my iPhone 3GS. The signal strength goes up and down. Every few minutes it will ask me to join a WiFi network, but when I select my home AirPort Extreme it will either say it can't join or that the password is wrong.

I've only noticed this in the past few weeks since I updated the firmware on my Aiport Extreme.
I've seen some of this - ipad was drowning, ipod touch happy as a clam. OTOH, windows laptop was having some degree of trouble in that spot last week (I think due to wireless phone interference), though in that case I don't have comparisons with ipod.
All this talk about adjusting our router to make wifi work on the iPAD is ridiculous. The iPAD was made for mobility; you cannot adjust the routers out there at public places, offices, airports, restaurants, etc.. It is Apple's responsibility to make the iPAD work unconditionally.