Is it my Wi-Fi or the Internet and what’s the difference anyway?

Over the years, Wi-Fi has become a generic term for Internet access. This often leads people to believe that their Internet connection is slow or not working when in fact the connection to the house is working just fine. I can hear you already…

OK…You wait just a darn minute! If my laptop or tablet cannot connect to the internet then there is obviously something wrong with the Internet and I am calling my ISP and letting them know that there is something wrong with their service!

Well…Though this statement may sound reasonable it is not really taking all the facts into consideration. It is possible that you could have an actual problem with your connection to your ISP or that your ISP is having a widespread issue but normally, the problem is much closer to home. The biggest take away of this month’s article is this –

Your WiFi (Wireless Signal) and Your internet connection are not the same thing.

For the sake of this article, think of your ISP as a very large well that provides your home and all of your neighbor’s homes with water, or in this case, Internet access. Like a well, your ISP provides a “pipe” directly to the internet, this can be done over copper or fiber or some other means but it is a pipe nonetheless. Once the connections are made to the house, water travels through a water pump and Internet goes through a router. Both feed the home with a necessary service and both the water pump and the router are usually owned by the homeowner.

Router transfers internet signal wirelessly

Most days, you turn on the faucet and water comes out, but one day… nothing. What do you do? Is your first assumption that the well has run dry? Not usually. The first thing I would check is to see whether my pump was working, perhaps a blown breaker or some other mechanical failure.

The water pump allows water to flow when you turn on the faucet. In the case of internet access, the router allows the internet to flow when you turn on your various devices. If there is no connection or the connection is slow, the first thing to check is going to be your router.

As with many electronic devices, a simple reboot is often enough to get it working again but sometimes a simple reboot doesn’t work. In that case you may need to look at getting a replacement. Fortunately, replacing a router is much easier than replacing a water pump and it definitely requires fewer tools! A consumer grade router can usually be purchased from your ISP or from a local retail store and in most cases, this is more than sufficient for home use.

So, why does a router fail?

There are many different reasons but usually, they just wear out. The wireless signal that a router broadcasts is like a radio signal (actually it is a radio signal but I digress…). To broadcast the wireless signal requires a transmitter and a transmitter emits non-harmful radiation in the form of heat. This radiation over time, and depending on signal strength and proximity, causes damage to other components inside of the router and ultimately causes the router to wear out and eventually fail. Usually a wireless router will last between two and four years but it can be longer or shorter depending on the location of the router, the signal strength of the transmitter and other environmental considerations.

When a device cannot connect to Wi-FI, check your router first. The router is responsible for transmitting the Wi-Fi signal. Without that signal, your devices cannot connect to your big internet pipe that your ISP provides.

So, before you call your internet provider with a big old “what for” because your internet is not working, it is always a good rule of thumb to restart both your computer, and your router. If after that, you still cannot establish an internet connection, by all means give them a call. They will be more than happy to help get you connected once again.

Submitted by Dr. Leo Carlson, Business & Technology Director at Norvado