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My 2012 MacBook Air has problems with Wi-Fi – random disconnections, every few minutes.

The problems occurred with Lion, and persist after an upgrade to Mountain Lion.

It seems the Wi-Fi drops occur more often when I walk with the MacBook Air, or when I have it on my lap. With it on a table, the connection drops much less often.

After the network connection drops, I have to click the name of my network in the list again – the system does not reconnect automatically.

Things I tried include:

  • testing other computers on the same network (all computers work fine)
  • using the MacBook Air with a network in a different country (the same problem occurs)
  • a new network location
  • changing the MTU value for the Wi-Fi chip
  • replacement of the Wi-Fi chip (no improvement)
  • a fixed IP instead of DHCP
  • re-installing OS X
  • Windows on the MacBook Air - Wi-Fi works fine.
  • Using other Wi-Fi channels (both fixed and auto-channel-mode)

I have contacted Apple Support five times but it seems they can't or don't want to help me (they promised to 'look into it' but I haven't heard a thing in three weeks).

Anyone any other ideas? I'm getting desperate – since I got my MacBook Air three months ago I haven't used it a single time without Wi-Fi dropping.

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I should test with more than two networks before assuming that both networks are problem-free. –  Graham Perrin Oct 24 '12 at 2:30
    
Focus on one of the networks, whichever will be easiest to diagnose. Use the Option key with the Wi-Fi status menu. What's the RSSI value? Please add this detail and others to your question. Consider running Wi-Fi Diagnostics. –  Graham Perrin Oct 24 '12 at 2:56

15 Answers 15

This is a topic I have followed online and in "real life" for several months. Anecdotally, Apple seems to have a wifi problem with the 2012 MacBookAir. I have no firm figures concerning how widespread this situation is, but I know of two other MacBook Air laptops that have displayed this issue:

  • the MBA I purchased in hopes that I could use it attached to a projector as the remote end of a video presentation at a conference I had to miss for health reasons. I returned the computer one week later after investing ten or so hours trying to fix dropping WiFi connections.

  • my oldest daughter's 2012 12" MBA that she still has and is now connecting more reliably, close to 95%+

The resulting story is long, but reading the full adventure might help to open your eyes to the minutiae that helped me resolve her WiFi nightmare.

Shortly after purchasing the MBA for my daughter, she started complaining of wifi drops, initially at home and then she began experiencing drops everywhere--but not at my office where my AirPort Extreme literally sits on a shelf, three feet above my head. My initial thought focused on signal strength and distance from the router. While attending college she lives at my parents' home. The walls are lathe and plaster and the WiFi access point was at the opposite side of the house. I don't remember the brand, but it could have been a Linksys or DLink, and was only a 2.4GHz wireless-G unit.

While working with my daughter, I started some online research, including Apple Discussion boards. When I saw how many posts and complaints floated around the internet, and how few people had positive response from Genius Bar denizens, I figured that I would need strong documentation if I was going to get anywhere with them.

I worked to document and remedy connection stability on two fronts.

If you'd rather cut to The Chase and skip the steps that expanded my understanding of the issue, scroll down to the end of my post.

Tracking and replicating problems with her computer

  • Apple includes WiFi Diagnostics with OS X. Select Open WiFi Diagnostics from the WiFi menu while holding the OPTION key.
  • Don't worry about the three options on the main app screen, but first select Wi-Fi Scan from the View menu.
    • The channel, width, band, signal and noise are all listed.
    • You want the least competition for channels. Change that at the router if needed.
    • Signal and Noise are affected by interference from walls, electrical wiring and other environmental issues.
      • The larger the gap between the signal and noise represents a better connection.
    • Much of this information is available on the WiFi menu if you hold the OPTION key while clicking on the menu.
    • You can get a visual ticker tape for signal/noise by selecting Performance in the Network Utilities window.
  • Keep a log of approximate time/date, RSSI (signal strength), transmit rate and any important events.
    • Don't worry about keeping this log religiously.
    • Make a note any time you experience a noticeable change in WiFi speed.
    • Note the times you reset the WiFi router.
    • Every time you have a WiFi drop, be sure to note the event and the signal strength and rate.
    • More than dates and strengths, look for patterns.
      • At home, WIFI dropped
      • Logged out and back in
      • Walked from room
      • Connected to the DSL WiFi router at dad's house and dropped.
      • Rebooted laptop
      • Laptop on table
      • Lots if static from wind
      • At library, no WIFI drops
      • Just rebooted router
      • At dad's and connected to the Time Capsule. Not dropped.
      • At hardware store, WIFI dropped
    • Note any errors the MBA displays.
      • Unexpected WiFi timeout
  • If all else fails, you have something to take with you to the Genius Bar or discuss with Apple support that has stronger documentation than "The damn thing doesn't work!"
  • I also attempted to replicate the WiFi problems with my early-2009 17" MacBook Pro. My laptop remained connected every time we were together and hers dropped the WiFi.

Tracking and replicating problems with the router

  • General router information...
    • What make/model is your wireless router?
    • How old is it?
    • Are you connecting using 2.4GHz, 5GHz or both?
  • General site description...
    • How far away is the router from where you use your MBA?
  • Create a wireless site survey with NetSpot
    • It's a free download from the Mac App Store.
    • Use the program to draw out a map of where you use your computer (home, office, etc.) including all the interior walls between you and the router.
    • You walk around the site, using NetSpot to capture signal strength, noise and other information.
    • Post a capture of the results and I'll be happy to help see what might help.

Generally, you'll have better connectivity closer to the router. If you have a clear line of sight to the router, you should have a good signal.

I know my daughter got sick and tired of having WiFi drop, rebooting the router and/or her MBA.

How I finally made things better

I ended up controlling the two variables I could directly manipulate: signal strength and age of WiFi router. In the end, my solution improved internet connectivity throughout my parents' home, benefitting everyone.

I started out replacing the router with another older, non-Apple one I had sitting around my office, possibly an old AirLink. No positive affect. Then I replaced it with a third slightly-newer, non-Apple router. Again, no change. In order to re-connect after a drop, my daughter would walk to the other side of the house and reboot the router every time there was a wireless drop.

I brought a 30' length of CAT-5 from the office so I could position the various router closer to her bedroom. WiFi signal strength and overall quality improved, but she still experienced the drops three or four times a day. I think she would have been happy at this point, but the problem had become personal with me.

As I analyzed everything, I decided to introduce the one element she had not experienced from my office into my daughter's home:

  • I snagged an AirPort Express from my shop and reconfigured it for her local network. It replaced the older, non-Apple router that was there. Unbeknownst to me, we had the AirPort Express plugged into a power outlet shared with a lamp that was controlled by a wall switch. My daughter switched off the light when she would leave for college, and also the router. Quality improved once again, with signal drops once or twice a day. My parents were starting to get annoyed by a twisty blue wire running through their home.
  • We changed the outlet to one with permanent power and after a couple of days the signal stabilized and seemed to finally start running
    properly. However, my parents were still annoyed by the twisty blue
    wire running through their home. I figured I was close enough to a
    stable solution that I invested some money in hopes of staunching the flow of time and phone calls at all hours of the night. Money became less important than sleep.
  • I installed a AirPort Extreme where the DSL modem is located at the far end of my parents' house, in my dad's office. The Extreme bathes the office with multichannel 5GHz goodness that links between 300MBs and 450MBs. This one access point covers that half of the house with 2.4GHz coverage and 150MBs to 270MBs connectivity.
  • I dragged a CAT6 cable through the hot and dusty attic to a location near my daughter's bedroom, near the other end of the house. I attached an AirPort Express at this end which provides a near mirror of the Extreme.
  • I bound the 5GHz and 2.4GHz into a single SSID/Network name.
  • I enabled the Express to extend the Extreme's wireless network, connecting the two access points for passwords and transparent passing from one access point to the other as one moves throughout the house.
  • Both the AirPorts are powered and connected to the DSL modem 24/7.
  • While I was at it, I enabled a guest network with a separate
    password.

The Chase

I think the 2012 MacBook Air WiFi issue might be because Apple has integrated Intel's more aggressive power-saving modes into the laptop. In a drive to maximize battery life, these new low-power modes change how (and how often) the laptop communicates with the wireless access point.

  • Apple introduces Intel's deep power states as Power Nap on their latest equipment.
  • From what I've been able to read on OEMs implementing the new lower power modes (and we'll group Apple in as just another OEMs), Intel needs greater control of the various components on the motherboard and has met resistance.
  • The price-sensitive business model that drives the Windows world forces most OEMs to include the lowest-cost subsystems, not necessarily the latest technology.
  • Since Apple does not play in the race to the bottom with prices and profitability, the company often offers newer technology in their products.
  • Apple is pushing the limits of throughput vs power consumption with
    the 2012 MBA's WiFi subsystems. My 2009 MBP keeps the WiFi powered on at all times so will never see the problem introduced when mixing an older router with a newer laptop.
  • Older routers would see an IP address turning themselves off at random times... which then would drop the connection.
  • The 2012 MBA expects wireless access points to provide a longer time duration before releasing a connection.
  • I found timeout durations in all the older routers' HTML-based configuration systems, but could not make a change to any of them from the default values.
  • When a system that has powered down the WiFi subsystem (even though the user believes they are still working merrily right along) needs to ping the Internet, the MBA powers up the "sleeping" WiFi subsystem, only to discover the wireless access point has terminated their connection.

Yes, this is a long-winded and overly-detailed story. I spent several hours this afternoon thinking through each element of the plot as I typed the events, and I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I completely rewrote the ending because of thoughts developed and linked with random memories that I hadn't seen as possibly being interrelated.

There are many times that my quick, three line answer does not allow me the time to "think with my fingers". Instead of resolving an issue I sloppily (and possibly expensively) slapped a band-aid on the owie.

I resolved the dropped network issue by replacing the "antiquated" WiFi router with a "modern" one. I just happened to select one manufactured by Apple. Either

  1. increase the time an older router will keep an inactive connection alive before timeout (which may not be changeable in any given older router), or
  2. replace it with one that supports Intel's newer power-saving states.
share|improve this answer
    
+1 to the accepted answer, and +1 here for order, deep thinking and attention to detail in a first edition of an answer. In both cases (yours, and the opening post) it should be unnecessary to replace an apparently good router, especially if that hardware works for other computers. So whilst I'm glad that the question is answered simply, there remains the wish for diagnoses – plus improvements from Apple – in other cases. I'll add this post to my reference points for whenever I see other users experiencing problems with Wi-Fi. –  Graham Perrin Nov 5 '12 at 4:31
    
Spectacularly detailed answer! It's documentation like this that seriously gets to the core of a problem. Slight addition: I couldn't find the diagnostic program using the option key in Lion, but found you can access the .app file in CoreServices –  Joost Nov 5 '12 at 8:21
    
FYI Mac Wi-Fi Update 1.0 (2012-12-17) – is that applicable to the affected Mac? –  Graham Perrin Dec 18 '12 at 21:03
    
@TomUnderhill Apparently WiFi connectivity issues with some Macbooks is a known "flaw" to Apple –  Simon Jun 6 '13 at 11:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I finally "solved" the problem by just buying a new router. It seems my old router triggered some kind of bug in OS X - making it drop the Wi-Fi connection whereas Windows and Linux installs would remain connected. It seems the other routers I tried coincidentally caused the same problem. With my new router the drops seem to be gone and I can move my MacBook as much as I want without it disconnecting.

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1  
Please, can you tell the model and the manufacturer of the new router? I have the same problem but I changed 2 routers without success –  Teg Mar 6 '13 at 8:12
    
It's a Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band WNDR4000. –  Mathijs Mar 7 '13 at 8:59

This could be related to Apple deciding not to use 40Mhz channel width in 2.4Mhz band as to avoid Bluetooth interference which there devices use a lot.

It is also worth noting that this limitation seems to be a deliberate attempt by Apple software (MAC OS X) rather than a hardware restriction, as in 2.4 GHz band Apple won't allow 40 MHz "wide" channels as they want to preserve the functionality of Bluetooth which comes alongside with Wi-Fi in most Macs which shares the same bandwidth spectrum. Allowing 40 MHz wide channels in 2.4 GHz band would have severely constrained Bluetooth functionality.

Reference : iMac's inability to connect with WiFi 802.11n only access point

Now, since in this case we are able to connect, and changing the router did fixed the problem I would guess this has something to do with the router login shuffling between 20 and 40 Mhz band when connecting to different devices.

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Have you tried re-installing your system? A clean install I mean.

It might be that for some reason some drivers didn't get installed correctly, or that something got corrupted.

It might also be that your Mac loses connection to the wifi for some reason, not sure what else to say. Have you Googled for your problem? It might be a common issue with MacBook Air Macs, in 2012.

Hope this helps. :)

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See bulletpoint 7: Mathijs has reinstalled his OS before. Whether it's a common issue or not does not really help. –  Joost Oct 21 '12 at 19:18
    
Oh I missed that. Well if it's a common problem then it probably also has a common solution. ;) –  Greduan Oct 21 '12 at 20:03

It's not easy to find a solution but the problem can from your wifi router. Suggestion, try :

  • another channel (if you have an android device, some apps can help you to find the better channel)
  • another wpa option aes/tkip
  • another place (microwave is not wifi friendly), less interference (other hardware)
  • another router (or upgrade with the last bios)

http://www.pcworld.com/article/227973/six_things_that_block_your_wifi_and_how_to_fix_them.html

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The second point indicates that Mathijs has tested the problem outside his own network - it happens when using different access points, other than his router. –  Joost Oct 21 '12 at 19:13
    
Agree but a different network if this is a neighbor is not a good test. –  benoît Oct 21 '12 at 19:45
1  
One of the other networks tested was one in another country. I don't think my microwave interferes with networks 700 kilometers away. –  Mathijs Oct 23 '12 at 8:40
    
OK OK there is a problem, I give you my experience but if this is not due to OS, hardware, or network… really hard to find something without "stupid proposition"… May be a mother board problem ? –  benoît Oct 23 '12 at 10:28
    
It does seem to be due to OSX, as Windows works fine on the same machine.. –  Joost Oct 23 '12 at 15:26

Try change MAC dddress, because I think you device conflic with arp table on router wifi (or arp poisoning)

S1: disconnect from wifi network, but not turn off wifi card

S2: change your MAC address of wifi card by command: sudo /sbin/ifconfig en1 lladdr 0:23:15:58:f4:21

S3: reconnect to wifi network and use about 1 hour

share|improve this answer
    
An ARP problem would not result in a significant increase in drops when the Macbook is moved, right? Plus, that would not account for the problem occuring on multiple networks. Guess it's worth a shot though, if only for the record. –  Joost Oct 22 '12 at 21:21

I'll try to answer your question. From bullets 1-3 follows that problem is definitely in your MBA. From bullets 4, 6, 7 follows that problem is not in OS X software. From bullet 5 follows that problem is not in Wi-Fi chip hardware. It follows that problem in other MBA hardware. From bullet 8 follows that problem is handled by OS X and Windows differently. You wrote that Wi-Fi drops occur more often when you move MBA. May be something wrong with physical connection of Wi-Fi chip to bus? And Windows driver handles these connection drops differently. Try to log presence of en0 interface.

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Was this machine setup from a time machine backup?

How did you reinstall the wifi chip?

Who did the install?

It's obviously a Mac Firmware/Driver issue, as it works fine in windows. Is this Windows in a boot camp install or parallels? So Hardware is out as an issue.

I would say, a CLEAN install of OS X NOT from the recovery partition. Then to NOT restore from your TM backup for a bit and use it. See if this fixes the issue. If it does then MANUALLY drag and drop your files from the TM backup without messing with the settings file.

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An Apple service center replaced the Wi-Fi chip. As far as I know, Mathijs isn't using Time Machine and didn't migrate old files to the clean install - it's a brand new machine. –  Joost Oct 25 '12 at 18:51
    
Joost.Why are you answering for the OP? Nowhere is the Apple service center mentioned, and it says nothing about Time Machine or not. Are you assuming? It's three months old, and it's quite possible he had a macbook prior. –  Tony Tellez Oct 26 '12 at 12:12
    
Sorry, perhaps I shoudn't have, if only for clarity sake. I know the OP IRL and are thus aware of the details. This is stuff that perhaps could've been included in the first post/question.. –  Joost Oct 26 '12 at 12:38
    
Joost is right: an Apple authorised reseller replaced the chip and I'm not using Time Machine. For the Windows install I used boot camp. –  Mathijs Nov 4 '12 at 22:23

Perhaps try to go to a similar MacBook and grab the /System/Library/Extensions/IO80211Family.kext file and replace the one on your computer with this one.

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My MacBook Air sometimes doesn't see Wi-fi at home and work, and it seems to be related to the wifi channel the access point is using.

When I turn off "auto channel selection" on my wifi access point and select 12 or 13 my Macbook doesn't see this the access point. When I select 11 or any other channel, everything is OK.

Try manually specifying the channel and see if that fixes your problem.

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I've already tried that and it didn't help. I will update the OP. –  Mathijs Nov 4 '12 at 22:20

I solved the problem by switching the wifi router to channel 11.
I think that there is a problem with some routers in auto channel mode using 802.11n. When the channel changes, Mountain Lion drops the connection.

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Wifi channel changing on router from one to another, in my case from 11 to 10, solved the issue.

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I had a similar problem with my Macbook air mid 2012. The wireless connection had been dropping randomly and then my macbook couldn't find my home network again, though it might found every other networks in the town. I changed my router's wifi channel settings from 12 to 11 and voila. It Works well now.

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NetSpot helps you optimize your Wi-Fi networks. It's an excellent free mac utility that lets you scan your area for wi-fi signals, and create floor plans best suited for delivering strong wireless connections. http://www.netspotapp.com/

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try to setup your wlan access point to use Channel 6 exclusively.

i had similar problems with a b/g wlan (ZyWall-Zyair setup) with disconnections only with 2011 and 2012 Macbooks whereas all other devices work fine. when the g network operates exclusively on channel 6, the disconnections are are reduced to a wide extend.

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The channel depends on what other wi fi users are using. 6 just happens to be the best one for you –  Mark Oct 25 '12 at 12:13

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