Home | Weblog | Weblog Introduction | Campground Computer Heroes | Wi-Fi Savvy Blog


Troubleshooting Wi-Fi in RV Parks

During the FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) Convention in Redmond 8/16 - 8/19/2004, Coach Connect installed and maintained a free Wi-Fi hotspot (wireless network.) It was located in the information center and we staffed the Computer Help Desk. We estimate that at least 500 people made use of the Wi-Fi hotspot and about 20% of them asked for help. That means we saw 100 different computers during those 4 days. We learned a lot! Frank and Jim also speak with users in RV parks on a daily basis whenever they are having problems. We all talked about our experiences after the convention and I wanted to put into writing some of the lessons from almost a year now of supporting Wi-Fi users.

Lots of people used the Wi-Fi hotspot at the FMCA convention.


Frank and Jim (orange shirts)
help people with the Wi-Fi

When it works:

Wi-Fi (wireless, high-speed Internet) is without a doubt the best way to connect to the Internet. It’s fast, it’s always on and it’s pay-as-you-go – no long term commitment. You can use it wherever there is a hot-spot and the number of them is growing all the time. Many of them are free. And, obviously, you don’t have to mess with any wires! Getting online is SO easy!! Just turn on your computer, give your adapter a minute to detect the hotspot and start browsing the Web!

When it doesn’t work:

If a Wi-Fi connection isn’t working, troubleshooting the problem can be very difficult. There are 3 primary factors in a Wi-Fi connection all of which need to be functioning together to make Internet access happen.

  1. The source of the Broadband Internet connection. Usually DSL or Cable, but possibly a T1, a ‘point-to-point’ connection to a local ISP or a Satellite connection.
  2. The Wi-Fi distribution equipment. A Wireless Access Point, possibly a gateway and one or more antennas and amplifiers.
  3. The end users’ Wi-Fi adapter and computer.

In an RV park, it looks something like this:

The basic troubleshooting process goes like this:

  1. Is the user’s Wi-Fi adapter on and functioning? There are usually lights on the adapter, laptop case, or onscreen icons to let you know this.
    This is a special problem for internal/built-in adapters. They usually have some way to turn them on, but it is not at all obvious. Every computer is different. Look for a button, or a function key.
  2. Is the user’s Wi-Fi adapter sensing the availability of the wireless network?
    After about 30 seconds of being on, a little window should pop up with a message like "Wireless Network is Available." If that message does not appear, you have to dig in the Network Connections area and find out why.
  3. Is the user’s Wi-Fi adapter able to connect to the wireless network?
    After seeing the message that networks are available, another message should pop up with a message like "Connected to Coach, Signal is Good." Once again, if the message doesn't pop up you need to dig in Network Connections and find out why.
  4. Has the user’s wireless network connection been assigned a valid IP address?
    First, you need to know what a valid IP address is for this hot spot. For all Coach Connect hot-spots the IP address will start with 10.59.xx If instead, it starts with 169.xx you know that it's not really connecting to the Internet.
  5. Can the user open a browser window and view an uncached website?
    If they have a valid IP address, they SHOULD be able to open a browser and view websites. Make sure to try a website other than the user's home page because that may exist in the computer's local cache. Issuing a refresh command would also serve the purpose.
  6. Is the user’s browsing experience fast?
    Even if they're connected and browsing, you're not done yet. If the browsing speed is not significantly faster than a dial-up connection, there's still something wrong!
  • If you can't get past #1, 2, or 3, it's a pretty good bet the problem is with the user's computer or adapter.
  • If you get past 3 and are stuck on 4, it's likely that the problem lies in the Wireless hot-spot equipment. Resetting the Access Point may be in order.
  • If you get past #4 the problem may be with the main Internet connection. You need to check to see if someone with a wired connection can browse the Internet with the same ISP.

But wait! Those are only the 3 primary factors. There's a LOT more:

  1. The end user’s computer operating system.
    Macintosh OS X and Windows XP Professional are great. All others could present challenges.
  2. The age of the computer.
  3. The type of USB port (1 or 2)
    Although 2 is supposed to be backward compatible, we have found that connecting a USB 2 device to a USB 1 results in very slow browsing. A USB 2 device attached to a USB 2 port is very fast.
  4. The specific type/brand of adapter.
    The adapter on the user's computer is clearly the weakest link in the system and therefore, the most important part to get right. The internal adapters rarely have the power to connect to an Access Point in an outdoor environment like an RV park. We have had much better success with the USB devices. Even with a year of experience with them however, we cannot pinpoint one brand that is the best. It depends on the operating system of the computer, the age of the computer, the type of USB port, and the version of the device drivers. In general, try to match the 'vintage' of the adapter with that of the computer and operating system.
    'Don't give up, try a different adapter.'
    We've been amazed at this technique. We had such good luck with the Zyair adapter, we used it for everyone. One person's didn't work, so we tried using a Senao and it worked great. The exact same Zyair worked just fine on someone else's computer.
  5. The version of the drivers for the adapter and whether they were properly installed.
    We have had success more than once when the adapter was completely uninstalled and reinstalled.
  6. Other network connections or settings on the user's computer.
    Several times we have deleted a 'network bridge' to solve the problem.
  7. Internet Explorer settings on the user's computer.
    Many people who normally use dial up need to go into Internet Explorer, Tools, Internet Options, Connections and click on 'Never Dial a Connection'
    Another issue is found on Internet Options, Connections and LAN settings: If 'Use a Proxy Server" is set to yes, they won't be able to browse because there is no Proxy Server.
  8. Whether the user's computer has viruses or spyware.
    One time we noticed when a particular person connected, the entire system slowed down to a crawl. When she disconnected, all was back to normal. We cleaned her computer of several viruses and all was well.
  9. Whether any other user's computer on the network has viruses or spyware.
  10. The distance from the access point
  11. The orientation of the adapter in relation to the access point
  12. The obstructions or other interference between the adapter and the access point.
    One user in an RV park was online fine as long as the sites beside him were empty. When other coaches were parked there, he could not connect. Another source of interference is other 2.4ghz devices such as cordless phones.
  13. Other possible Wireless Lans that may be conflicting with the signal.
    If another WLAN is in the vicinity and is using the same channel, it can conflict with user's ability to browse.
  14. The prior network connection settings on the user’s computer
  15. The Firewall configuration on the User’s computer.
    We saw one user unable to browse even though he had a valid IP address. After fussing for a while, his firewall popped up a message "WLAN detected, do you want me to TRUST it?" As soon as we clicked the "Trust this SSID", all was well.
  16. The Firewall configuration on the main office computer system
  17. The condition of the web server you are trying to access.
    Remember, just because you get the ' Page cannot be displayed' message it doesn't necessarily mean it's your problem, it could be the server for that page is down. Try another one.
  18. The condition of the World Wide Web at any given time.
    In one hot-spot, the user's complained of slow browsing. This happened every day between 5 and 6pm. We believe it was due to overloaded conditions on the Internet.
  19. The weather.
    Water in the air can interfere with radio signals like Wi-Fi.


© 2004 Guld Systems, Inc.