Basic Router Troubleshooting

A basic router troubleshooting guide. This document is meant as a general guide for troubleshooting problems with your router. All makes and models of routers are slightly different, so for specific configuration advice you should be referring to the manufacturer’s manual or our customers can speak to our dedicated support helpdesk who would be happy to help.

Routers can be used with several different forms of connectivity. For tips and advice on router setups and configurations for specific types of connectivity, please see our other guides.

My Internet connection is down and all pointers indicate a problem with my router

Routers can and will go wrong, and even if they are not the root cause of your connection being down, they can be very useful in determining where the problem lies.

The first and most primitive thing to try is obviously ensuring that the router is switched on and has power to it. If there has recently been some stormy weather in your area or the power supply is showing signs of intermittent issues, a power surge may have caused your router to develop a fault. If your router has no lights on, or unusually flickering lights, you may have a power issue. If possible, try an alternative power supply. If this doesn’t do the trick then you will want to get it replaced. Installing power surge protectors is always a good idea if your Internet connectivity is critical to your business, and especially if you live in an area that is susceptible to harsh weather conditions such as electrical storms.

If you are sure that your router is powered correctly then reboot the device. Leave it off for at least 30 seconds or so and then power back up. Give the router a good few minutes to power back up and return to normal.

A trusty reboot has not done the trick, so what now? Well you should check the status of all the lights on the front and back. All routers are different, and different forms of connectivity tend to use different lights, so referring to the manufacturer’s guide or speaking to your provider might be a good idea. You are looking for any irregularities that will be helpful in determining the problem, so look for anything that doesn’t seem ordinary – it is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with your router in a happy, working state so that when it comes to troubleshooting like this, you know what to look for.

Another component that might have gone wrong is the micro filter that the router plugs into (this applies to ADSL connection only). Where the router plugs into the phone socket, there will be a small matchbox size device that has a splitter for a router cable and a phone cable. These devices are commonly very cheap and are often made of cheap components, hence they are prone to go wrong. It always a good idea to keep a few spares handy for testing purposes.

Ultimately, if the router is powered on and is not fried, there is no way of knowing 100% for sure if the router is to blame unless you have an alternative. It may not be financially viable for a home environment, but in business scenarios it is always a good idea to either have a spare for testing purposes or a maintenance contract for times when the connection drops. If you can have a spare to hand that is ready to plug in and test in times like this, you should be able to prove whether the router is to blame or not. It always helps speed the fault process on massively as your ISP is likely to want any potential hardware issues investigated thoroughly before looking into other issues.

My Internet connection is running very slowly or seems to drop intermittently and I think my router is to blame

Intermittent and slow problems with your router are always very difficult to troubleshoot and diagnose, there is no exact science to it and you can sometimes feel like you are hopelessly trying random things to no avail. However, there are some proven tips and thing to look out for.

The first thing to try is always look at where the router is physically positioned and how it is plugged in. Routers are susceptible to radio and electrical interference. Fish tanks, radios, scanning equipment, Christmas tree lights, even cordless kettles have been known to cause problems in the past. Don’t be unnecessarily over-cautious – the router doesn’t need to be isolated completely – but certainly if the router is positioned near something that you suspect could be causing a problem then eliminate it. Also look at the position of the cables, check to see whether they are seated correctly in their connectors, try reseating them, ensure that the cables are not twisted or folded on themselves or have something crushing the wires such as a cupboard or desk.

If you are happy that all the physical aspects of the device are sound, try rebooting the device, even leaving it off for a length of time. Routers are sometimes left on for months, maybe years at a time. Problems such as built up old data or overheating have been known to cause problems such as intermittency and slowness. A trusty reboot may sound like a cliché but it can save you a heap of time and hassle in the long run. Always give it a try.

Next you can try upgrading and changing a couple of things. First check the manufacturer’s website for your model of router and make sure the firmware on your device is up to date. These have been known to fix a lot of these issues, especially slow connection problems. Also try changing the ADSL micro filter or splitter that your router may be using. As mentioned previously, they can be made of cheap components and are prone to going wrong. It is a long shot, but you may also want to try looking at your DNS servers and whether they are reliable. If you inexperienced on this, please speak to your administrator, but slow or intermittent DNS servers have occasionally been known to cause problems in instances where Internet browsing is running slowly or intermittently.

If you have exhausted everything and you are still getting nowhere, it is probably time to admit defeat and speak to your ISP. However going to them with as much information and testing results as possible is always helpful and will definitely speed the process along. If you are getting a slow connection then run a few speed tests at different times of the day to see if it fluctuates, and if the connection is dropping try making a note of when the intermittency tends to occur or if it is random. Running continuous ping tests from a command line can also help detect things like latency and dropped packets, again very useful information for your support desk. You should also run the tests directly from the router with a laptop plugged into the back. If you find that the results differ greatly from when running the tests from behind your network versus from directly at the router, you know that something within the network is causing some irregularities and is definitely worth investigating. For ADSL, compare and contrast the speed results you get with those that are kept on the router interface itself, normally referred to as a “sync speed” i.e. the speed that the router is synced at with the exchange. You may find that when you run tests the results only show 2mb but then when you check the router, it is happily synced up at 10Mb. Again this is a problem that there could be something wrong outside the router and is worth talking to your network administrators about.

Finally it always a good idea to be aware of what performance you can and should be expecting from your router. Make sure you are aware of what speeds and reliability you can be expecting from your line and in turn your router. Your ISP should be able to furnish you with this information ideally at the point of install, but failing that at any time after. For example there is no point troubleshooting your router for a perceived problem of only receiving 2Mb of speed if your nearest exchange is 6KM away and 2Mb is the very best your router can hope to achieve. Always try and remain realistic as to what your router and Internet connection is capable of.

My wireless connectivity is poor and I want to eliminate my router as the cause

Another very common problem, and another one that can be very tricky to troubleshoot and diagnose exactly, but there are always a few very helpful things to try.

The first thing to try if you are having problems with wireless is make sure that your router is configured correctly and is all up to date. Go to the manufacturer’s website for your model and make sure the latest firmware is installed on the device. Also check the best wireless broadcast settings for your region and make sure your router is setup accordingly. These simple things are often overlooked.

Another thing to look at when inspecting the configuration is to look at what channels your router is broadcasting on. Routers can broadcast wirelessly on a range of a different channels and usually people leave their device on the factory settings, which means there can be a lot of routers in a certain area all broadcasting on the same channels. A handy little app to download for your Android smartphone is:

WiFi Analyzer

This app scans all of the wireless channels in your area and tells you which ones are the most and least used. It may be a good idea to switch your router to a less used, less flooded channel which will help reduce channel interference and should help optimise your signal.

If your office is large with plenty of nooks, crannies and side offices, you are always going to have wireless dead zones if you just use the standard wireless functionality on the router. Ultimately it is a good idea to have a professional wireless survey done (a service that activereach offers) so you can identify your exact requirements. You can try installing wireless signal boosters for smaller environments, but for the larger environments it is a good idea to look at installing wireless access points which feed back to the main router but have their own broadcast range and authentication options. You can install a few access points and then limit certain areas of the office to certain points so there is no bleed or interference between departments.

It is also a very good idea to keep a check on who is using your wireless exactly. It is quite common to find a router is configured with the default settings, only to discover that wireless access is not properly secured. ALWAYS change the SSID, username and password of your wireless router before implementing it. If you are an office environment, you can preconfigure your user machines with the SSID settings and then remove SSID broadcast altogether so no one is able to see your wireless network other than those preapproved and preconfigured to use it.

If you suspect foul play and think that unwanted people are using your wireless, log onto your router and check the ARP table or ARP cache of your device. This information will tell you exactly which IP addresses are currently logged onto your router. If there are addresses that you don’t recognise then chances are you have an unwanted intruder on your network. It is always a good idea to keep regular checks on it.

General guidelines and advice

  • When your router is first installed, especially if it was configured by a third party, make sure you are aware of what the router is configured to do in terms of your network, and find out whether you are getting the most out of it. There may be options and settings on there that will be useful to you that you didn’t even know were available. Also make sure you know what all your usernames and passwords are for accessing these devices.
  • Routers are electrical devices like any other, and yet you wouldn’t leave your television or laptop running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They experience wear and tear like any other piece of kit, and it is always a good idea to give them a fresh reboot every now and then. Obviously ensure that all settings and configurations are saved and will not be affected by a switch off.
  • In most instances, especially in a business environment, it is not viable to leave them off, but where possible you should. If you are going on holiday or the office will be unmanned for a lengthy period, give the router a rest and switch them off. Again, ensure that switching it off will not affect any configuration currently ongoing.
  • Perform regular maintenance on your router. Make sure that the firmware is kept up to date and the settings / configuration file of the router is kept backed up and optimised.
  • Keep checks and ensure that all cable connections are kept seated well and that cables going into the router are kept obstruction and kink free.
  • Routers do get old and outdated, no matter how well you look after them. You should keep regular maintenance contracts on all of your routers and should consider, or at least review the possibility of, replacing your router every 4 – 5 years at least. If your business is growing fast and your user base growing with it, you should be reviewing this every couple of years.