Update – April 5, 2012 – In light of recent reports of iPad 3 WiFi problems, please note that this article was writtent to address problems with the iPad, weeks after its inital launch. That said, there may be something applicable within. Moreover, I have since departed with my iPad and my 4th Gen iPod Touch and replaced them with other gadgets–the only constant being the Cisco Wireless N router. This leaves me in a good position to comment on the wireless performance of a broader range of products.
The Wi-Fi reception iPad and Touch was dismal in the far corners of our home. Some days it (Apple Wi-Fi on both devices) would have a few bars and others days it would not connect at all. It would also suddenly drop the connection and the signal strength would change if I moved it around in the air. Since the router is on the lower floor of the three-story facility, in theory this could be forgiven. Because of an iOS 5 upgrade/iTunes debacle, I ditched the iPad and bought an Acer Iconia Tab A500. I loved it but its Wi-Fi was slightly worse as it would not connect at all in the far corners of the house. I also (begrudgingly) swapped out my Palm Pre for an HTC EVO 4G phone and found that it had solid Wi-Fi reception throughout in the house. Finally, I sold the Acer A500 in favor of a great deal I got from Sprint on an HTC Evo View 4G tablet. Like the EVO 4G phone, the View has excellent WiFi reception throught the house. In the meantime, (in spite of the kicking and screaming) I swapped out my wife’s Palm pixi for an iPhone 4S and not surprisingly, its Wi-Fi performance is not on par with either of the HTC devices.
So, maybe Apple’s Wi-Fi radio and/or antenna positioning are lacking? Maybe it’s the glass and aluminum enclosure? I don’t think that the Cisco Wireless N router has anything to do with it because almost everything else with Wi-Fi gets a strong signal througout the house.
Since the antennas in my (sturdy) HTC devices are purposely encased in plastic, I suspect that the combination of Apple’s radio, antenna positioning and aluminum enclosure are suspect and that everybody is going to have to learn to live with it.
April 16, 2010 – I’ve always loved my iPod Touch, but its screen was too small to enjoy its multimedia features, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to purchase Apple’s new (at the time) iPad. The iPad turned out to be everything that I expected and more. It’s replaced both the cranky old laptops that I used for couch surfing/lap heating, as well as the iPod Touch that I had equipped with a Bluetooth dongle and speakers for mobile entertainment.
However, the iPad displayed one vexing problem and a serious one to boot—it would not connect to the wireless network after waking up from sleep mode. Moreover, it would drop the signal in the middle of a session and would not re-connect to the network unless I used the “Forget this network” option and joined the same network again. This was a major deal breaker, especially since I had to enter the WEP key again.
I’ve been using Wi-Fi since the home networking standard and before the emergence of the 802.11b standard. Once the 802.11b standard hardware appeared and the pricing stabilized, I migrated everything to the new standard. Since then, I’ve burned through at least six wireless routers, whose life spans average about 18 months each (the definition of “burned through” means that the performance degraded to the point where I had to do the unplug/plug the power routine several times a week). I’ve owned at least two routers each from D-Link, Netgear and Linksys, and had yet to find one that was both reliable and durable. Range was also an issue and I had tried several different types of range extenders to no avail (antennas, wall-plug extenders, repeaters). To put things in perspective: at the office, the last thing I wanted to hear was “I can’t print”, while at home, the last thing that I wanted to hear was “I can’t get on the Internet.”
Granted, I have a more complex home network than most, with a plethora of wireless gear: an HP Photosmart Touchsmart Web wireless AiO printer, Roku Soundbridge, Roku DVP, Palm Pre, iPod Touch, three different wireless bridges, and three (old) laptops—not to mention a bunch of other gear on the wired portion of the network (three switches, four desktop PCs, one network printer, another network AiO printer and two NASs).
The problem was that, although the iPad readily connected to my network, reception was weak and it had the annoying habit of dropping the signal, even in the middle of a session. Then, it would not reconnect to the known network.
After a little Googling, I found that Apple had released a “fix”: set up your wireless router with two different SSIDs; each with a different name; each with the same security settings; and each on a different band (802.11b/g and 802.11n). Problem was that unlike with Apple’s Airport routers, the DIR-615 did not support multiple SSIDs. So all things considered, I tried configuring the D-Link DIR-615’s SSID with each of the available bands (it was set on mixed 802.11b/g/n) and this did not help the iPad issue. Next, I dragged out an old Netgear WG602 v3 wireless 802.11b/g access point and set up two different Wi-Fi networks, each on a different band per Apple’s recommendation. This also did not help with the iPad issue so I reverted back to the lone DIR-615 setup. Next, I tried removing wireless security and hiding the SSID. This did not help either.
I had configured my iPad’s auto-lock setting to “never” and turned it off when I was done using it. This is not a problem because it is an instant-on unit. I just had to remember to turn it off when I was done with it—no big deal. You’re thinking “so what,” but this is an important component in the story.
I decided to spring for an enterprise-level router. After much research, I noticed that the Cisco WRVS4400N router supported multiple SSIDs and it promised legacy support and great range with its three antennas. I also (naively?) thought to myself, “Cisco has been in the networking business forever, if you can’t trust Cisco, who can you trust?” So, I ran off to Staples and plunked down $240 for the “enterprise level” router.
It worked great! Setup was easy. Everything hooked up to it in mixed 802.11b/g/n mode and the range was indeed outstanding, with 97% signal reception in the furthest area–worlds better than any other antenna/extender/repeater solution that I had ever tried! Sadly though, my iPad woes continued. Then, I decided to try Apple’s fix of configuring different SSIDs on the same router, but found that although you can assign up to four SSIDs, you can’t assign a different band to each SSID.
After much research, I decided that in spite of several blog threads that condemned the WRVS4400N firmware upgrade, I had nothing to lose by trying it. I held my breath during the process and found that afterwards that the iPad issue was fixed. I was relieved to find out that from that point on, it never lost the signal—until . . .
Just yesterday, I forgot to turn the iPad off after a session and came back hours later to witness the blazingly-clear screen happily wasting battery power. I thought to myself, “This is not good for either the screen life or energy consumption,” and changed the auto-lock setting from “never” to two minutes. However, I came back to use the iPad several hours later and found the issue had started again.
I quickly concluded that the only thing that had changed since this problem appeared again was that I changed the auto-lock setting. Consequently, I changed the iPad auto-lock setting back to “never,” and the problem was solved–I just have to remember to manually turn the iPad off when I’m done using it.
So the bottom line is that many of you can solve your iPad Wi-Fi issues by setting auto-lock to “never.” Although my main intention writing this was to help others that are struggling with this issue, I also hope Apple takes note. In other words, they may not need to blame “third-party routers” any longer and get to work fixing the root of this problem.
On another note, I’ve found that the Bluetooth A2DP service does not support the media track controls (pause, forward, back) of my Motorola S805 Stereo Bluetooth Headphones. I have also found that Netflix “watch instantly” videos stop and start intermittently (basically unwatchable) when using said Bluetooth headphones, but works great when using wired headphones.
iOS 4.1 UPDATE
Bluetooth – The stuttering audio has gone away with Motorola S805 Bluetooth Headphones. However, the track controls still do not work. This is odd because all the controls work perfectly with my 3rd Gen iPod Touch. Must be due to differences in the supplier of the Bluetooth radio.
Auto Lock – The auto-lock issue has also cleared up. However, I have since turned off wireless security and hid the SSID because I was having various WEP/WPA issues with other devices. This may be why auto-lock appears to be working now. I promise that someday I will turn on the security and finally resolve this issue once and for all.
iOS 5 UPDATE
I had serious problems with this update and it took me several weeks to determine that it was caused by a cranky iTunes installation that was due to cranky USB ports on a cranky old Windows XP dedicated iTunes box. After that ordeal, I sold the iPad on eBay and used the cash to purchase an Acer Iconia Tab A500 Android-based tablet. I even had enough cash left over to purchase a 32 Gb microSD memory card.
So, the major downside of owning an iDevice was banished forever–no PC, iTunes, or ridiculously short and overpriced sync cable required! You do not even have to own a PC in order to enjoy the full benefits of an Android-based tablet.