The inability to connect to Wi-Fi can be one of the most frustrating problems one can experience with technology.
If we can’t resolve the problem quickly, we go from head-scratching to pulling out hair.
Let’s take a look at the top 13 reasons your computer won’t connect to Wi-Fi and what to do about it.
Computer Won’t Connect To Wi-Fi (13 Reasons And Fixes)
1. Problems With Computer Or Network
It is important to attempt to determine whether the problem lies with your computer or with something beyond your computer like a Wi-Fi router or access point.
We’ll cover each of these scenarios, but here’s a quick way to narrow down the issue.
The first thing to try is to test another device like your smartphone, for example.
Be sure to turn off cellular data temporarily to avoid skewing your test results, then connect your phone to the same Wi-Fi network to which you’re attempting to connect your computer.
If you’re able to reach the Internet with a secondary device, then you can be pretty sure the problem is with your computer.
If your second device also can’t connect or get on the Internet, then there may be some systemic cause outside of your PC.
What if you don’t have a secondary device to test with?
This is not a problem.
We’ll cover all of the bases for you anyway.
Another good test is to attempt to connect your computer to a different Wi-Fi network if possible.
Is there a coffee shop nearby with free Wi-Fi?
Does a neighbor have a network you can borrow?
What about using your phone as a hotspot?
If you’ve got a second Wi-Fi network handy, try connecting and see if you’re successful.
If so, the original network might be the problem.
Otherwise, you’ve got a good case that your computer is the culprit.
If you don’t have a second network available for testing, no problem.
These steps simply help narrow down the problem a little faster.
We’ll start with the assumption that the computer is to blame and progress outward from there.
2. Your Wi-Fi Is Disabled
Sometimes we overlook the obvious.
Is your Wi-Fi radio disabled?
It happens to the best of us.
The tricky thing about Wi-Fi adapters is that they can be disabled in multiple ways.
For example, Windows 10 and later has an Airplane mode that allows you to disable wireless networking quickly.
If Airplane mode is enabled, you’ll see an airplane icon in the bottom right corner of your screen.
To disable the setting, click on the icon and then click on the “Airplane mode” tile to turn the mode off.
Now try connecting to Wi-Fi again if the computer doesn’t automatically reconnect.
Another possibility is a hardware switch to disable your radio.
Many laptop models have a hard switch to make it quick and convenient to turn on and off wireless.
Problems can occur, though, if the switch is in a location where it can be easily toggled unknowingly.
If you have a wireless switch, check to see if it has moved to the off position.
3. Your Wi-Fi Driver Is Out Of Date Or Corrupt
Out-of-date or corrupt Wi-Fi drivers can render your wireless card unusable by the operating system.
A driver is a software that enables the operating system to utilize a piece of hardware.
Symptoms of driver problems include not seeing your Wi-Fi adapter present on your computer or the inability to connect or stay connected to wireless networks.
If you suspect a driver issue, the first fix to try is to restart your computer.
If a restart has no effect on the problem, we’ll head over to Device Manager.
Click on the Start button and begin typing “Device Manager” until you see the application show up in the search results.
You can also open the program from the run line.
Hold down the Windows key and press the “R” key, then type devmgmt.msc, and then press “Enter.”
In Device Manager, look for “Network adapters” and click on the dropdown to reveal the devices installed on your PC.
Look for an item with “wireless” or “Wi-Fi” in the name.
Once located, write down or screenshot the model of the Wi-Fi adapter if present.
You might need this information later.
If you see a device with a yellow caution triangle icon, that usually means there’s a driver problem.
If so, Device Manager might even report that the adapter is an “Unknown device” or something generic like “Network device.”
A. Roll Back Driver
Right-click on the adapter and choose “Properties” and then click on the “Driver” tab.
If you have the option to “Roll Back Driver,” this is the first thing to try.
Windows will often store previous versions of drivers when installing an update in case the new driver doesn’t work as intended.
If this option doesn’t work or is unavailable, close the properties window.
Right-click the adapter again, and this time, choose “Uninstall device.”
Don’t check the box to delete the driver on the next screen, but do click “Uninstall.”
Next, right-click on any device in Device Manager and choose “Scan for hardware changes.”
This causes Windows to reinstall the Wi-Fi adapter on your computer using its cached version of the driver.
Be aware that, in doing these steps, you’ll likely lose any saved Wi-Fi network SSID keys, so be sure you know what the password is for your network before trying this out.
B. Update Driver
If that doesn’t work, perform the uninstall steps again, but this time, check the box to delete the driver software since the driver might be corrupt.
The next steps can be tricky depending on what hardware you have access to.
Scan for hardware changes again, and you should see an unknown device show up.
If you can hardwire your computer for a moment, establish a connection that way, then right-click the device and choose “Update driver” and “Search automatically for drivers.”
If the utility can’t find drivers or tells you the best driver is already installed, click on “Search for updated drivers on Windows Update.”
Install any found updates and then test your Wi-Fi adapter.
Still no luck?
C. Get New Driver From Manufacturer
Next, we need to go straight to the manufacturer and download and install the driver.
Use the adapter name you recorded earlier to identify the model.
If Device Manager didn’t list a model, boot into the BIOS or UEFI setup program to see a report of installed hardware.
If this option doesn’t yield any results, you’ll need to consult your original computer order confirmation or call the PC manufacturer’s support.
Once you’ve obtained the model number, go to the manufacturer’s website, and download and install the driver software for your device.
If you don’t have Ethernet as an option, and the above steps didn’t resolve the problem, you’ll have to get creative.
You have two options: use another device to download the driver onto a USB drive or purchase a USB Wi-Fi adapter.
4. Your Wi-Fi Card Is Malfunctioning
If neither your operating system nor the firmware detects your Wi-Fi adapter, and none of the above steps worked to resolve the problem, then you may have malfunctioning hardware.
If this is the case, you’ve got a couple of options.
The first is to contact your PC’s manufacturer and see what your repair options are.
Tell support the troubleshooting steps you’ve already attempted.
If your computer is still under warranty, the manufacturer should replace the part for free.
Depending on the company, you might need to take the device to an authorized repair center or ship the computer out for repair.
If the computer is not under warranty and you don’t want to shell out the money to replace or repair the wireless card, you can buy an inexpensive USB Wi-Fi adapter as mentioned above.
5. Your Wi-Fi Adapter Is Out Of Date
It is possible that your hardware and device driver are both functioning perfectly, but you still can’t connect to certain Wi-Fi networks.
How is this so?
Maybe your adapter isn’t compatible with the network to which you’re trying to connect.
Unless your computer is really old, this scenario is unlikely since most routers and access points support some backward compatibility, but it is a possibility.
Can you connect to some Wi-Fi networks, but not others?
Can newer devices connect to those other networks?
Your Wi-Fi adapter might not be able to connect to newer Wi-Fi standards.
Fixes: buy a new computer or buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter that supports the latest standards.
6. You’re Using An Incorrect Key
Do you have the correct encryption key (password) for the Wi-Fi network?
It’s worth double-checking.
Maybe you had the correct key, and the network administrator changed the key for the SSID.
If your stored password is incorrect, the operating system will likely notify you when it attempts to connect and offer you the opportunity to update the key.
If you’re not presented with this option, click on the Wi-Fi icon in the bottom right corner of your Windows computer, right-click on “Wi-Fi,” and then click on “Go to Settings.”
Click on “Manage known networks,” select the network in question, and then click “Forget.”
Now attempt to reconnect to that network, entering the proper password.
7. The Encryption Standard Is Too Weak
This item is technically a problem with both the computer and the network.
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is an old Wi-Fi encryption method included in the original 802.11 wireless standard in 1997.
A few years later, researchers detailed the weakness of WEP encryption, demonstrating ways the cipher could be broken.
Ever since, WEP has been considered insufficient to provide a secure Wi-Fi connection.
As a result, Microsoft officially deprecated support for WEP beginning in May of 2019.
It’s unclear exactly when the feature will be officially disabled, but if you’re using WEP, it would behoove you to change to WPA2 or WPA3.
8. Your Computer Is Out Of Range
If your computer is too far from the wireless router or access point, you might be able to see the network when scanning, but your computer may not be able to connect.
You might even be able to connect but won’t be able to establish an Internet connection.
If this is the case, move your computer closer to the source of the Wi-Fi and try again.
9. Channel Interference Is The Problem
A related issue is channel interference.
If multiple Wi-Fi radios in close proximity broadcast on the same frequency, interference could occur, rendering your Wi-Fi connection unstable at best.
If this is happening at home, log in to your router and adjust the broadcast channel of your Wi-Fi networks.
Many modern APs and routers have auto channel settings which they use to scan and select the best available channels.
If this setting is present on your router, try enabling it and check if the problem improves.
10. Too Many Devices Are Connected
All network infrastructure has limitations, and this includes wireless hardware.
If you experience trouble connecting to Wi-Fi, it could be because the network is saturated with devices.
A few different problems could arise here.
One is that the access point cannot accept any more clients.
Are you at a large conference or other event?
Similar to a restaurant at the capacity specified by the fire marshal, wireless APs can accept a finite number of nodes.
If you suspect this might be the issue, move to a less densely crowded area of the hotel or conference center.
Most of these venues have multiple access points to ensure good signal coverage.
Another possibility is that the network has run out of IP addresses.
Just like a phone number, IP addresses are critical for communication on a network.
A DHCP server is responsible for handing out addresses from a predefined pool.
If that pool is limited to 254 Ips, and you happen to be person number 255, then you’re out of luck.
Unfortunately, unless this problem occurs in your own home, there’s not much you can do other than report the issue to IT at your venue.
If the problem is at your home, a quick fix is to turn off some devices that connect to Wi-Fi that aren’t in use at the moment, then reboot your wireless router.
If rebooting doesn’t work, you’ll need to log in to your router and expand the scope by changing your subnet mask.
The default setting is usually 255.255.255.0 which allows for 254 devices.
Changing this mask by just one number to 255.255.254.0 will expand your available internal addresses to 510 devices.
Note that you will also need to expand the DHCP pool if your router doesn’t do so automatically, and you might also have to change the IP address of your router.
In addition, devices on your network will need to reboot in order to get new network settings from your router.
Consult your router’s documentation and a good subnet calculator before implementing any changes.
It’s also possible that, with a large number of devices connected, the bandwidth—the total amount of available simultaneous data usage—is maxed out.
In these situations, you have little recourse but to seek an alternative network or tell your neighbors to stop torrenting the Internet.
11. The Router Or Access Point Is The Problem
If you’re having trouble connecting to Wi-Fi, there’s a good chance the network itself is to blame, especially if you’ve examined all of the possible scenarios above.
If the problem is happening on a network you have access to, like your home or your small business, one fix is to reboot the networking hardware.
Remember, of course, that if any clients are connected, they will lose connectivity until the hardware comes back up.
If the hardware is owned by someone else, report the problem to the IT department or your Internet service provider (ISP).
12. You Haven’t Accepted The AUP
Many corporate networks require agreeing to an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) when first connecting to their Wi-Fi before you are granted Internet access.
Make sure you check the “I agree” box or you won’t be going anywhere on the Web.
If you don’t see the AUP page, but suspect this might be the issue, disconnect from the network and then reconnect.
Doing so will usually re-initialize the acceptable use page.
13. Your MAC Is Banned
A rare, but possible scenario is that your device has been banned from the network to which you’re trying to connect.
Every network card has a unique identifier known as a Media Access Control address.
If an organization detects suspicious or illegal activity originating from a certain node, or if that node is not authorized to access the network, administrators can ban the address which prevents it from connecting.
If this is the case, you won’t get any type of notification but your computer just won’t connect.
You have little recourse except to ask to have the ban revoked.
Wi-Fi has developed over the years to improve reliability, speed, and stability.
Because the technology works most of the time, it’s easy to forget the underlying complexity and myriad variables involved in assuring a smooth connection.
When you do encounter problems, stay patient.
If you can isolate the problem with a methodical approach, you’ll be up and surfing again in no time.